The Failing Student

What Failing Students Want Us to Remember

The majority of our schools in the United States follow the meritocratic model of operation. This means that students are given grades based on their performance, they are sorted into achievement groups, and they are eligible for awards and rewards if they achieve satisfactory results. Negative labels, such as “nonproficient reader,” “failed student,” or “bad test taker,” are frequently applied to a child’s performance when that youngster isn’t meeting the standards that have been set for him or her, regardless of the reasons why.

Because of the way the system is set up, teachers are put in the position of having to perceive pupils primarily in the context of their roles as test takers and graders. To say it isn’t frustrating would be an understatement. In reality, learning has very little to do with grades at all. Learners stand to benefit significantly more from an abundance of low-stakes exams and consistent feedback if it is provided frequently.

It is common in our schools—and I see this at the many middle and high school campuses I visit, as well as in the schools where I taught—for adults to consider a student who is earning high marks a good child, while a student who is failing grades is considered a not-so-good child. This is something that I see at all of the schools where I taught. What a myopic lens we have constructed in our classrooms, one that disregards the breadth of everything that is a child. And as we strive to develop into schools and teachers that are trauma-informed, we need to realise that the current model only permits a child to be labelled “a successful student” based on how well she performs as a test taker and grade maker. This is something that we need to be aware of as we move forward. This story has the potential to make a youngster who has no previous trauma experience it, as well as to make an already traumatised child’s condition worse.


Therefore, in the event that a kid is not performing, making progress, or participating, we need to pause and examine farther than the actions that child is now displaying. It is necessary for us to examine further than any defiant or refusing conduct. This manner, we can break the curse of those long-lasting labels, which may have been traumatic for the youngster, and begin to meet that child with a clearer view of the world around them. When we do this, we are better able to understand what the child, whether they are 7 or 17 years old, is attempting to convey to us in their communication.

1. I am not my grade. Despite the fact that I understand part of the material, I do not receive high grades or gain a lot of points on my assignments. I frequently choose not to even attempt something since I am aware that I will receive a poor mark regardless. I really wish that in addition to grades and points there were more ways to demonstrate who I am.

2. I am still able to make a meaningful contribution. I enjoy assisting others, but there are times when I act as though I don’t and as if I couldn’t care less about being a part of the school or my class. I take precautions since, at school, the students who have higher grade point averages are chosen to assist more frequently.

3. I am not a disappointment. The academic work is challenging, and I am aware that I have let down not only my instructors but also my students when we have collaborated on projects. Because of this, I have a hard time feeling positive about myself on a daily basis. How can I improve upon this? I really wish that in school we could focus more on the things that we get right rather than focusing mostly on the things that we get wrong.

4. Come find me at the location I’m in. There are things that I am capable of doing, but not this, not right now, and not like this. I sincerely wish I had more of your time. I wish the guidelines and the assignments were written in a way that was easier for me to understand. There are many parts of the school day that are hectic and unclear.

5. Refrain from giving up. Make a way for me to do it. Why I can’t seem to grasp this concept is beyond me. I’d really appreciate it if someone kept looking into it. Even though it appears that way at times, it’s not because I don’t want to do what needs to be done. When adults talk to me and ask questions, it’s helpful. I am unable to carry it out at the moment, but who knows? Maybe one day I will be able to.


The destructive habit of placing an excessive amount of focus on grades and tests needs to be brought to light and we need to work together to remove deficit-based methods from our educational institutions. And in this quest for a more humanising pedagogy, one that disrupts the traditional, meritocratic system, it is essential that we turn to asset- and strength-based creative ways to celebrate, honour, bolster, and include students who have been labeled—possibly for years—by a letter grade that stands for failing as well as by negative, deficit descriptors. This is because we want to create a more humanising pedagogy that disrupts the traditional, meritocra

It is important to take an abundance strategy with our students, which means recognising, concentrating, and expanding on their strengths while diverting attention away from their weaknesses. The following is how it works: Discovering each child’s individual abilities should be your first priority. Create a list of those qualities, those crowning achievements (skills, talents, and interests). First, it is important to meet the child where they are intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Next, it is important to harness those strengths through tailored training in order to support the student’s growth. All students have the opportunity to experience being noticed, acknowledged, and encouraged in their schools when this strategy is used, regardless of the number of points they’ve earned in a class or how well they fared on a state test.