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Behaviors At School

The Underachiever

Action: Identify causes of misbehavior. Pinpoint student needs being revealed. Employ specific methods, procedures, and techniques at school and at home for getting the child to modify or change his/her behavior.

Primary Causes of Misbehavior

Self-Confidence
The inability to achieve causes a great deal of insecurity.

Primary Needs Being Revealed

Escape from Pain
This student has experienced a great deal of failure and is very fearful of risking future academic attempts.

Secondary Needs Being Revealed

Achievement
This student needs tasks that are within his/her ability range. If any student needs achievement, it is the underachiever.

Actions to Take
  • An especially difficult student attitude to counteract is "playing it safe." The student with this attitude won't aim high because he/she doesn't want to be disappointed. Changing this attitude takes time. However, the only way to begin is by rewarding effort as well as achievement. Praise and encourage the student's initiative. But don't push this student, or he/she will never move out of the "safe zone."

  • Recognize one fact, and you can do a great deal to change student attitudes: While the successful student experiences success in front of others, the underachiever usually experiences failures publicly and successes privately. That's the difference-and the problem.

  • Recognize that this is a problem best handled by all teachers, administrators, parents, and child working together.

  • Acknowledge the fact that this student wastes time.

  • Recognize the four biggest time wasters: laziness, procrastination, distraction, and impatience. And know that these time-consuming are abetted by a lack of preparation, thoroughness, or perseverance. Most often, the underachiever scores low in all these areas.

  • Call parents.

  • Be aware that most parents come to school expecting resistance. Many think their child tried, but couldn't resolve the difficulty for a variety of reasons, none of them good.

  • Therefore, asking parents, "What can I do?" is disarming. Likewise, you'll be amazed how parents change their tune when you say, "What can we do together?" "Together" is a great word. It means sharing. It says, "You do something, and we will too." If parents respond with a request outside the realm of your authority, say so. But also say, "Let's help."

  • Teachers often assign additional work to underachievers. Be aware that sometimes the opposite approach produces better results.

  • If a student won't do class assignments, don't allow him/her to participate. Insist that the student sit idly. Remember, even when kids won't do assigned work, they still want to participate with the group. Being included is very important to children. Sometimes, kids can learn a very valuable lesson, and arrive at better decisions, if they are forbidden to work for short periods of time. Some underachievers may change their values and actions more quickly if they are sometimes not permitted to work.

  • Never use class work as punishment. Such a practice only reinforces the negative feelings the underachiever has for school. Remember, problem students already possess negative attitudes. Therefore, if you're going to punish, use a form of punishment that is not a part of the classroom learning experience, and you may solve a problem rather than compound one.

  • Don't put the underachiever down or make him/her feel insignificant in any way. If you do, you may be inadvertently denying the prestige motivator in learning. Likewise, if you don't give recognition for success, you can't use the prestige motivator effectively.

  • Don't frighten the underachiever or make threats concerning grades or behavior. The insecurity produced may be counterproductive to motivation and may make the problem worse.

  • Don't be cold, sarcastic, or intolerant. The underachiever may learn the wrong lessons from such approaches. Most of all, this student needs a firm, caring, and unified effort from all the adults in his/her life.

  • If the student does not try, withdraw privileges at school. Notify parents; they may want to take similar action at home.

  • Be careful about telling a student he/she can't pass your course or class. You may not only lose a student's interest and motivation from now until the end of school-you may also be creating a discipline problem. Remember, when hope is gone, so is interest. Then, the stage is set for a discipline problem to develop.

  • Writing comments on student papers such as "This isn't worth grading," or crumpling a student assignment and throwing it in the wastebasket can completely demoralize a student. Never belittle any student effort. Your challenge as a professional teacher is to motivate students to improve their efforts. Rejection only creates another teacher hurdle.

  • Talk to this student about his/her strengths and possibilities. The underachiever already knows his/her weaknesses.

  • Make specific recommendations for things this student can do during the summer. Research summer courses and have enrollment forms available.

  • Give this student summer assignments and volunteer to see him/her during the summer. Even if the student does not respond, your offer has conveyed an important message. Your interest alone can give hope-and maybe motivation not to give up.

  • Maintain contact with parents-and talk with next year's teachers as well.

  • Remember, perspective reveals that most students will grow up to be responsible and productive adults. They need to remember our belief in them. These students can learn-if given time.

  • Your own self-confidence can work for you rather than against you if you take the right approach with students. First, be careful about telling. Second, take extreme care not to talk in absolute terms when sharing ideas or suggestions. Even when all the evidence is in, be careful about projecting the image that what you think and say is the only way to do things. Such actions are exclusive rather than inclusive. They put people down-and maybe even out of one's life.

  • Likewise, ask rather than demand. And when you are asking, always remember to tell why you are making the request. Telling people what to do may be the easiest, quickest way to get something done. But it's seldom the best. Offering a reason takes away the air of superiority and bossiness associated with demand. It also reduces error, because when people know why they are doing something, they are more competent in doing it. If you want self-confidence to work for you, simply try making others feel as important as they really are. Then you'll surely be important to them. Without teaching, students may never know these truths. We may not either. That's why these principles need discussion.

  • Remember, final memories are dominant. Your final action should enable students to say that they "made it" with you rather than in spite of you.

List of Behaviors

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Please Note
We are labeling behaviors, not children! For the sake of convenience, we will describe behaviors with terms such as The Whiner or The Interrupter.

Never use such labels when talking to—or about—children! Doing so could cause many new problems and seriously damage the teacher-student or parent-child relationship.