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Classroom Management: Creating Strong Students, People

Jordan Catapano

The academic process rigorously challenges students to become better and better … students. They learn how to write the perfect essay; obey a teacher’s instructions; complete homework on time; sit in rows; and any number of other school-specific tasks.

While becoming a better student ensures that they are more likely to learn, remember, and apply their academic skills in a variety of situations, there’s something more I want for my students: To be strong people.

Becoming a strong student has its perks, but many qualities of a good student are restricted to the academic environment. If an individual becomes a strong student, there’s no guarantee that they’ll demonstrate the qualities of a strong person beyond the strict academic behaviors. So while much of my classroom management emphasizes those academic behaviors, I also intently focus on helping my students to become much more.

Strong Student vs. Strong Person

Here’s a rough breakdown of the differences between being simply a strong student, and how that looks in the life of someone becoming a strong person:

Strong Student

Strong Person

Good at academics

Good at applying academics to life

Concerned about getting good grades

Concerned about developing proficiency in each skill set

Always knows what they're working on

Always knows what they're working toward

Expresses only agreeable opinions

Respectfully expresses what's truly on her heart and mind

Learns things for the test

Learns things to learn things

Focuses on English, science, math, history, etc.

Focuses on responsibility, motivation, kindness, passion, etc.

Is in competition with other classmates for grades, resources, and attention

Is in concord with classmates to share information, resources, and attention

Asks questions to conform to teacher's expectations

Asks questions to expand his learning and curiosity

Believes in her ability to do good schoolwork

Believes in her ability to overcome obstacles

Does the minimum to get the desired grade

Does the maximum to get the desired learning

Is deterred by failure

Is inspired by failure

The list could go on, but you get the idea. The person described in the left hand column would be a joy to have in the classroom, no doubt. But their motivations are superficial and shortsighted. While they would probably turn in work and earn grades similar to the strong person described in the right hand column, there’s a fundamental difference in the way they operate.

The strong student has a set of attributes that will make them successful in school. The strong person has a set of attributes that will make them successful in school and in life.

Classroom Management: Making Your Students Stronger People

Often, I overtly tell my students, “I’m not just interested in making you stronger students. I want you to be strong people, too.” They realize that when they treat school like a game to manipulate, they lose no matter what grade they get. They see that there’s more to success than answering questions on a test.

When I teach, I do my best to apply a few simple classroom management things to emphasize to students how they can become a stronger person in the process.

  • Tell how each lesson applies to them.
  • Describe the skills that correspond to any lesson.
  • Emphasize responsibility, timeliness, and motivation.
  • Help students set goals.
  • Challenge students to let their voices and ideas be heard.
  • Train them to be self-reflective.
  • Give them second chances.
  • Talk about life.
  • Believe in them, and let them know it.
  • Set high expectations for maturity and respect.

These are not items that can be “built into” a specific lesson – they are components upon which the entire year’s worth of interactions are centered. I ask myself, “How can I encourage them to become stronger people today?” And while we talk about and work on the academics, we are preparing students for much more than success in the academic setting.

What would you add to our description of what makes a strong person vs. a strong student? How do you conduct your class to make your students stronger people? Share your thoughts with us all in the comments area below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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