The quiet student – how we describe our students

As teachers, we encounter a wide range of personalities and behaviours on a daily basis from the outwardly boisterous to the inwardly timid and often the extremes of the range are within close proximity of each other. When it comes to writing their report, we are forced to describe their character in a limited number of words. The boisterous ones are easy – we might use energetic or enthusiastic; but when it comes to students who don’t contribute as often, we can be tempted to describe them as “quiet”.

I often used this term and thought nothing of it. I used it until my better half (also a teacher) told me that she was always described as quiet at school and hated it. Teachers decided she was quiet because her behaviour was excellent in comparison to the shenanigans going on around her. She felt that teachers used “quiet” when they did not really understand her and why she did not contribute as much as others; they did not really know her as a person.

Our school has had a big focus on the Dweck principal of a “growth mindset”, encouraging students and teachers to consider the way that we are all just in transit with our skills and encouraging everyone to endeavour to improve. Reports are, however, more challenging to apply the idea to – we like the process of saying “Bob is a <insert adjective> student” as it provides a good starting point.

The problem with labelling a student as “quiet” in their report is that it does not address the reason why they are quiet and does not necessarily help a student improve. A student might be quiet in that subject because they are not confident with the material. It could also be that they are not a confident public speaker, or perhaps that they are are seated near to students that have been causing them grief. There are so many different possibilities which may be causing the quietness which are not explained by a single label.

I feel for the student who opens their report and sees 11 reports, all describing them as quiet and I hope that they feel that their teachers know them and not that they are misunderstood.

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