The Caring Factor
The Caring Factor
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, March 14, 2018 by Todd Stanley

There are many factors that can lead to underachievement amongst gifted students, including:

  • home life,
  • boredom,
  • peers, and/or
  • not being challenged.

Even though there are many different causes of underachievement, they usually have one commonality: lack of care. If a student’s home life is tough, maybe a parent does not care. If a student is bored, his or her teachers may not care enough about their craft to make learning engaging or fulfilling. A student’s peers may not care about school. Or a school district may not care enough to provide services for its gifted population.

The good thing about underachievement is that it is a learned behavior. Because it is learned, it can be unlearned as well. And what is the best way to reverse this curse? The caring factor.

I observe a lot of classrooms, and what becomes very apparent is the correlation between how much a teacher cares and how much the students care. For example, I was recently in a calculus class. It was clear after 5 minutes that this teacher really cared about math. More importantly, when I looked around the room, the students seemed to care as well, asking thought-provoking questions. I could sense their rapport with the teacher and the level of engagement.

I went to another class with many of the same students, but almost immediately they pulled out their phones, put in earbuds, and were generally off-task. When this teacher taught a lesson, he went through the motions and was well-organized, but he did not seem to care as much about his topic.

The first teacher seemed to care more, not just about the subject area, but his students. Over by his desk were the pictures of hundreds of students. He did this activity called the “Student of the Day,” where he would read answers someone had provided at the beginning of the year about herself and then the class would guess who it was. He also seemed familiar with students' strengths and weaknesses in his interactions with them. I saw none of this in the other class.

When I studied famous people who had overcome their underachievement for my book When Smarts Kids Underachieve in School, there was one commonality: Someone cared. For instance, Albert Einstein, who was often bored in school and did not get good marks, had Max Talmey as a mentor. Einstein was 10 years old when he met Talmey, a medical student. Talmey ate lunch weekly with the Einstein family, and he gave the boy several books about science and philosophy. They interacted for a period of 5 years. Without Talmey, Einstein would likely not have become who he became. Others such as Eminem, Agatha Christie, and Winston Churchill all had people who cared about them enough to make them want to care.

The thing is, a teacher can be that caring person who inspires a child to reach his or her potential. Just knowing someone cares about him or her can be extremely inspiring for a student.

Click here to learn more about Todd Stanley.