By Jenny Ortiz

With spring comes Finals Week and students more focused on getting a tan than learning. To be fair, after the temper tantrums Mother Nature has had these last winter months, I too, have been daydreaming about long summer hours of lazy inertia at the beach.

On all the campuses where I teach, everyone is slowing down their pace to their next lecture, classroom time is more relaxed,  fewer assignments are due and there is more joking between professors and students.

For students who have done well the whole semester, the final weeks leading up to the Final Exam are nothing to worry about. Even if they manage to bomb the final, they’ll still end up with an A in the class. For those who have done terribly, they have either resigned themselves to repeating the course or are breaking a sweat much like a marathon runner hitting the wall; they are determined to show me that they are good students…they simply had a rough start.

The overachiever, the underdog, the smart-ass, and the one who never shows up…these are all students that can be dealt with accordingly. With patience, and good humor, most of these students can get ahead. However, what about the B student; the one who sits in the middle of the classroom, shows up to every class but doesn’t participate and who is quite happy to hand in B work. There seems to be no motivation and no desire to learn. At least the smart ass of the class wants a challenge and the scholar of the class is curious. The B student seems to lack these charms.

From campus-to-campus, I’ve realized that this type of student is not only increasing in number, but with each passing semester, the problem seems to get worse. The drive and the hunger to learn diminishes with every freshman class I have. These students are in class because they’re parents told them they had to be, but they aren’t the renegade types to fail a class as a symbol of their disinterest.

How do I motivate the B student? They’re usually ignored; teachers spend more time on the over-achievers and the underdogs because they are vocal and are looking to me for guidance. The B student isn’t looking for guidance and sometimes professors often forget to motivate them. If a student isn’t failing, then why force him/her to go to an extra hour of lab or to meet me in my office to go over the lecture of the day? It’s not that they don’t understand the material, it’s that the focus isn’t there. However, they aren’t failing, so…so maybe this is the best they can do? Not everyone was born to be Einstein or a rebel without a cause.

I have a problem with this idea. Perhaps it’s because I deal with 120 students a semester and see how easily a student can coast on by. They’re not learning anything, yet these are the students who we’ll be interacting with me, and us, on a daily basis. These are the students who, if they don’t care about their major now, will hate their jobs later on…and who is going to suffer? Me and everyone else they come into contact with.

Okay, so how does one get a B student animated and excited about the classwork? Challenging the student or relying on natural curiousity isn’t going help. They’d rather watch someone else do the work. However, encouragement  seems to work. I’ve found that when I show these students my interest in their academic careers, they come to realize they, too, are interested in the acaemic endeavors.

I recently had a student who has consistenly recieved Bs in every assignment. The last assignment I gave back to her, I made sure I circled all the areas of her paper I liked and wanted hear more about. My comments centered on her potential. The next class, without any explicit prodding from me, she met me afterwards and asked me to help her with her next assignment. A girl who told me early on she was content to be average was coming to me asking how she could improve her paper. How could she be better than average?

It seems to me that the dream of having a class full of over-achievers is possible…with time and energy, of course. If we turn the spotlight on students who usually are overlooked, what amazing poetential can we discover?

As always, I’m interested to hear your stories and opinions. What do you do to make your B students into A students?

About the Freeway Flyer: Jenny Ortiz is a quite serious 24 year old New Yorker, except when unicorns (specifically chubby unicorns) are involved. When she isn’t pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she is teaching at St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and LaGuardia Community College (see, quite serious). When she isn’t teaching, she’s hanging out with her friends showing off  earth and water bending skills (not serious, but super fun).  When she is alone and it’s raining, she likes to read Haruki Murakami, or listen to the Broken Bells and daydream.  If you want to be a fan, you can read Jenny’s work on fictionatwork.com, Blink-ink.com, Jersey Devil Press, dogeatcrow.com, Eighty Percent Magazine and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/jnylynn.

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