5 Species of Students

Tribal Teaching thrusts students into an unaccustomed learning environment. Hierarchies are dismantled. Power is decentralized. It is their classroom. They own it. I stay in my duck-blind.

For eight years, I have watched cohort after cohort navigate this environment. And, over that time, I have noticed my students falling in, falling out, moving through and settling into various archetypes.

I have been hesitant to articulate these archetypes. But, there are two things aTribal Teacher must not shy away from:

  • Telling her students the truth
  • Having difficult conversations with her students about those truths

So, here they are:

The Change-Making Animal:

They stand at the center of our community. They bind us together. They propel us forward. They create things we did not know we needed. They shape our values. They influence our ethos. And, they work. Man, do they work. They have other classes. They have jobs. And, they have extracurricular activities. But, they have one love. That is US. We are always on their mind. They drink every drop of our cultural Kool-Aid. And, they commit themselves to living the life of a Change-Making Animal. They go into the Arena, breathe the same air that their demons breathe, and battle. Without them, we do not exist. They make up our mythology. We will tell and retell their stories.

The Good Student:

They show up. They clock in. They clock out. They do their work. They do it well. They get things done. They have a strong work ethic. But, they rarely (if ever) take the lead. They sit back. They cling to the limited structure that’s provided. They wait for direction from others. They are content working for others. And, within the narrow confines of a task assigned to them, they excel. They may even create something unexpected. Yet, in the end, what they create does not leave a mark on our evolution.  How could it? We were just an experience they wanted to have. They never fall in love. They actively keep their distance. And, after sixteen weeks, they move on. They vanish from our oral history.

The Social Change Dreamer:

They want to run with us. Be one of us. They love everything about us. They are full of plans and enthusiasm. They are the kind of people that could make our world a better place. Yet, they are dominated by fear. Just like the rest of us, they shiver and shake at the edge of their comfort zones. But, unlike the rest of us, they will not take the leap. They want to. They know they need to. But, they never do. They step back. They retreat to the sidelines. Their projects never get off the ground. Their promises go unfulfilled. We leave them behind. We have no choice. Work needs to get done. And, we cannot count on them. In the end, we (like the universe) are denied their magnificence. They make my heart hurt.

The Comic Relief:

They have charm. They have charisma. And, these things have gotten them far. For years, they have been riding the coattails of others. It’s only taken them a wink and smile to get aboard. Yet, sustainable social change takes more. It takes work, a lot of it. But, they do not like to work. They prefer to coast. It’s sadder than that, though. They have been allowed to coast. They never needed to learn how to work. They never had to develop a work ethic. And, in turn, they have never tasted the joy of work. We all know that it’s so much more flavorful than coasting. Don’t get me wrong, we love being around them. They enliven our community. And, at the end of a hard day, they provide some necessary comic relief. But, in the crunch, they will not deliver. They know it. We know it, too.

The Shadow:

They thrive in the traditional classroom setting. They crave dictatorial direction. And, in response to the radical combination of extreme student autonomy and accountability of our community, they disengage. They skip class. They come late. They do not participate. And, if they do, they can get aggressive, indignant, and sharp. Their language erodes the sacred space in which we gather. They sow seeds of doubt. They question our potential. In their shadow, love and leadership cannot grow. Yes, this behavior is a manifestation of their fears. But, they undermine our community. And, active steps must be taken to quarantine their influence. If they do not choose to leave (which most of them do), they must be asked.

Student Species - p

All five archetypes reside in my students simultaneously. Indeed, there is an intense struggle for dominance amongst them. And, in the end, one archetype will rise to shape the work that my students produce.

Now, having articulated these archetypes, I have some questions:

  • How do I transform a “Social Change Dreamer” and the other archetypes into “Change-Making Animals”?
  • How do I adjust my approach for the different archetypes?
  • Can I use the articulation of these archetypes as a tool to move students forward? If so, how do I?

What do you think?

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Shawn Humphrey, the Blue Collar Professor (www.shawnhumphrey.com)

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