The Real Story is in the Numbers

by Ceil Hoopes
Student Services
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton CampusStress

Recently, an English teacher at a local high school told me about a new writing assignment for his twelfth graders: he asked them to write an essay that would best depict 24 hours in their lives. What he learned was so surprising that it led him to completely reframe his curriculum to reflect the real-world experiences of his students.

You see, after getting a better glimpse into the lives of his students, this teacher was forced to reflect on all of his interactions with them—not just his temperament in the classroom, but also his discussion topics, his assignments, and his assessments. He saw such a disconnect between what went on in his classroom and what went on in his students’ lives that he had no choice but to change things.

Life lessons aren’t on the syllabus

So many times we make judgments using arbitrary milestones: an 18-month old should speak a dozen words, a third-grader should know how to multiply fractions, a college freshman should know how to write an essay. When this teacher got to live for 24 hours in his students’ shoes, he learned that while many of them may not have reached the typical milestones, they had already crossed challenging hurdles that many of us didn’t have to worry about as youth.

Many students, for example, worked almost until midnight every night of the week. Some students who would have benefited academically from staying after school for extra help were instead responsible for taking care of younger siblings. Then there was the goofy young lady who the teacher assumed to be clueless because she arrived late to class at least twice a week. It turned out that cluelessness was not the culprit for her tardiness—she had a mother at home with MS who relied on a caretaker every day. If the caretaker was running late, so was the student.

Looking beyond the transcript

In August many of these of students will be walking through our doors with the same gifts and the same burdens. How am I going to see them? Will I use their SAT scores or placements test results to size them up? Will I judge that they are doomed for failure because they are coming in on the last day of registration? How can I create methods, as both an advisor and an instructor, to get to know them beyond the data? Will I take the time to recognize the victories I witness every day through our students?

This is how I am going to challenge myself. Sure, I know that education has become data driven and we are asked to work towards certain goals to improve our numbers. That’s cool, I get that. But I want to find a way to use my students’ numbers to get to know them better—and I’m not just talking about the numbers that show up on their transcripts. I want to find out how many buses they took to get here or how many jobs they are working in order to pay for school. I want to know how many kids they have at home, and how old their kids are. I want to know if they have ever been deployed in the service of our country. If so, how many times? I honestly believe that I will become a better teacher and a better advisor when I take the time to get to know all of their numbers. Because the real story is in the numbers.

What numbers do you use to learn out the real story about your students? Leave a comment and let us know.

7 thoughts on “The Real Story is in the Numbers

  1. This really made me stop and think. We as instructors have things going on outside the classroom that we leave at the door but do we really stop to think about what the students may be going through.

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    • Yeah. Ceil’s post made me realize that I need to make more of an effort to see my students not just as students, but as people. Not that I go around thinking they aren’t people with real lives; I just don’t really stop to think about it that often. I’m too focused on grades and due dates and the such.

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  2. Great food for thought, Ceil! We’re not looking at them as numbers, but we need to be looking at THEIR numbers. I love it!

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  3. Ceil, I really enjoyed your article. I have made a habit of going beyond the numbers for the students. After a couple of semesters, I sometimes don’t remember the student’s name, but I remember things like where they sat, what type of student they were, the fact that they have 4 childern or run track or play lacrosse. This semester I told my colleague that maybe I should not get to know them as well. Sometimes, its a bit overwhelming to receive all of this information from the students because a significant number may not make it through my challenging course; and I understand the impact on their lives. Your article reminded me of why I do this. Thank you!

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