I – Introduction
Throughout the 20th century many countries had been trying to reform and organize good education. However many social, moral and other factors hampered this process. For instance, in the US the standardized education hardly influenced on those people who lived in poverty and under bad conditions thus making pupils be left behind. This situation is still true in every country. The 21st century teachers are expected to be prepared to work with difficult children, poor, ethnically diverse and special-needs populations. Teachers should not be the only ones who constantly teach and ask for feedback, but those who can support and help. Even though weak students are misunderstood and left behind, teachers should work to find their hidden talents and motivate them to learn.
II. The nature of misunderstandings between teachers about weak students
The topic related to weak students is rather complicated and controversial one. The standardized educational system existed almost everywhere; the difference was in methods of teaching as weak students were treated differently. Some educators considered them to be minorities; some thought they were naughty and bully ones, sometimes even worse – unable to learn students. That is why different approaches were taken in order to achieve different aims and results, but all concerning the particular task, the issue of weak students. For instance, Fillmer (1975) used non-standard dialect and achievement approaches to reading instruction, which had not proved to be successful in teaching disadvantaged students to read (p. 184). The weak students in this study were treated as black children with non-standard English dialect.
In the Soviet time – the weak student was a shame to his “collective” and later he could perform only labor jobs. One more thing existed in the Soviet system of education is its structure on obedience and responsibility. The society greatly influenced pioneers and “komsomols.” Even reflecting on our parents’ memories, people can remember and agree that the system was really strict and under great pressure from government’s side. As an example can serve grading system in schools of USSR: for example, if the pupil got “good” mark, he deserved “excellent”; if “satisfactory” mark, it meant “good.” As a result, education in USSR had a tendency of inflexibility and impracticality of knowledge the students earned. Moreover, it was quite opposite to the desire all people have to fulfill their potentials, to come closer and closer to their ideal (Ferguson, 1989, p. 354).
Pupils with special needs were disadvantaged students too. Lower-class populations, or minorities, and immigrants were thought to be weak students as well.
One more thing that caused difficulties about understanding the problem of disadvantaged students was the “incurable idealism” of teachers (Coughlin, 1989, p. 570). The idealistic view of educators hampered the process of education, as almost all of them strongly believed that their own methodology worked better than the others’. And weak students were not paid attention much.
All of these opinions and treatments were the basis of misunderstandings and disagreements between educators about the subject of weak students.
III. Disadvantaged students as they are
In order to make any research concerning improving the situation with weak students, it is necessary to define the notion of a “disadvantaged” student. There is more than one possible definition:
4. Unable to learn
5. Shy, etc.
There is no end to this list. There are two categories of weak students according to Levin (2008): 1) students who have been disadvantaged within their lifetimes and 2) those connected to groups who have been disadvantaged historically (p. 94). But the two main reasons that cause the problem of appearing of a weak student are unbearable home life and also ineffectiveness of education at schools to teach those students. In both cases, the circumstances may cause many social problems. Levin also admits that students with disabilities, students who are in programs that have low institutional prestige such as developmental education, and students who are not legal immigrants to the US may be treated differently than other students (p. 95).
According to an online survey done by the teachers of English, which included 14 respondents, 77.8% of them defined weak students as naughty and unmotivated ones. 22.2% believe that they are illiterate and unable to learn students. On the question “are weak students really weak?” – 88.9% answered “yes”, that everyone has great potential and his own unique talent. Only 11.1% wrote “no”, such students are stupid and careless. One more important statement was: weak students hinder teaching process and development of intellectual potential of the school. And the number of respondents, who answered “true” – was 88.9%. This survey shows the real situations at school. Teachers know the problem of weak students very well, and almost all of them realize that behind shy appearance of this student the talent may be hidden. The question concerns whether teachers will work out the trouble and develop and support that child or will not pay any attention to him.
IV. The tremendous role of the teacher in student’s life
According to Whitfield and Klug (2004), in the 1920s, the industrial movement had an extreme influence on educational practices in the US. There appeared a new stream in the teaching process that had an emphasis on sameness and conformity. The society needed a new category of teachers. They should become “healers” (p. 43). But there appears a normal question: “How can teachers become healers? Teachers are those people who greatly influence their students and have the power to make their students feel unique no matter who they are: left behind students or bright ones. The goal of the healer is to make everything whole (p. 46). The supporters should create the atmosphere of trust and confidence, create classroom activities which will encourage students to participate together to create knowledge. Furthermore, knowledge should become not the aim, but means of learning. Only implementing achieved knowledge in practice will be helpful in students’ life.
There are many approaches and methodologies on how to teach weak students: Learner-based, task-based or content-based instructions. The question is what method will be the most effective in teaching weak students? It depends on the person, on the educator himself and his imagination, his feelings concerning students and his teaching style. What the weak students need is the comfortable atmosphere in the classroom and a need to trust his teacher first and then the knowledge he gives. Teachers in their turn should become supporters and strong motivators in order to wake up the burning desire to learn in their students. The old Eastern proverb says: “there is no such thing as bad pupil, but there is a bad teacher.”
One suggestion of improving the situation with disadvantaged students is to create the sense of understanding between teachers and learners. The professor in San Francisco State University Stanley Pogrow, responding in an interview suggested the following: “Stop teaching reading basic skills for 3 hours a day. Cut that at least in half, and you have plenty of time to develop a sense of understanding, and to reintroduce science and social studies to the curriculum”. This “sense of understanding” appears only in cozy atmosphere and strong belief that the teacher is the person who is ready to support and understand (Shaughnessy, 2008, p.360).
Another suggestion to better teaching to weaker students is using the theory of multiple intelligences by Harold Gardner extensively. When the teacher knows what the strong sides of his weak students are, he can easily conduct lessons in effective way. The smart teacher is the researcher; he is always in constant search of new techniques, new ways and new opportunities for teaching. Development of multiple intelligences is a good root for rich harvest, since benefits of knowing your students abilities will help teachers to better understanding students’ needs and ways of learning, thus vary the tasks and activities to fulfill in the classroom.
The problem of educating weak students is one of the complicated and up-to-date topical nowadays. And the role of the teacher is really significant. Only the real teacher can identify his students’ weaknesses and his brilliant sides, make efforts to fix the situation and motivate his students. The definition to the weak or disadvantaged student is hardly given, but nevertheless, the teacher can do everything possible and impossible in order to make his students develop their talents hidden behind the appearance.