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“The Understudent” — Notice The Kids Waiting In The Wings And Turn Every Child Into A Star

Source: ASIDE 2015

Every teacher knows the high-achieving students in his or her classroom. These are the trusted “high verbal” pupils who raise their hands, who answer each question, who quote the night’s reading, and who ferry the conversation. It’s a tacit trust between educator and child — the rewards are mutual. The lesson can proceed according to the teacher’s design, and the extroverts can succeed according to the traditional model.

But what about the introverts?

What about the “low verbals”?

What about the children who read the homework, who complete the worksheets, who memorize the vocabulary words, who post their projects, and who code their webpages — but who don’t speak up?

Most of a typical class is a chorus. Most of the kids who fill the seats and laugh at the jokes and fulfill their studies do not win awards. They do not give speeches at graduation. They do not take a bow with an audience on its feet.
Source: ASIDE 2015

The majority of learners will not play the leads. They will fill the background and be part of the cast. They will not see their names on the marquee, and they won’t even think to deserve it.

If school is a stage, then few actors will sing the solos or shine in soliloquies.

Most kids will be understudies — or “understudents.”

They will know their lines, they will be at every practice, they will work like heck — and yet they will receive little recognition. Because that’s how life is. And when they do step away from the ensemble and raise their hands to give a correct answer, it will be a surprise, an anomaly. 

The greatest challenge, therefore, for classroom teachers is to identify the talent waiting in the wings. Who is lurking behind the scenes? Who is quieting her voice within the chorus? Who is restraining herself within the dance?

Somewhere, a student just needs a break, some encouragement, and a teacher who believes in him to break out and become a star.

Think about the Tom Bradys and the Kurt Warners who needed a first string player to falter just so they could have a chance.

Source: ASIDE 2015

Too many times the demands of high stakes testing and rigid teacher evaluations throw educators into survival mode, where they can barely keep their own heads above water, much less look out for a glimmer of light among their docile classrooms.

But that’s the job. That’s the key. Getting to know each child on a personal level is more important than drilling rote facts into their heads. All of us can think back to the mentor who believed in us, who pulled us out of our comfort zones.

As the new school year gets underway, one of our resolutions is to seek out the understudents. We also strive to recognize the kids with underparents. They don’t make a fuss, they don't complain, and too often, therefore, we attend to the squeaky wheels.

But the modest geniuses in our midst need us more than ever. If we don’t pluck them from obscurity, then they may end up seeing themselves as members of the throng — humble nodders in the choir, content not to speak up, not to dare, not to lead, and not to share all of the insights within their quick and boisterous minds.