Teacher Language Might Benefit from a More Clinical Look

Teacher language often incorporates a set of generalized terms that are widely used in describing students. Many of these terms have become accepted as absolutes when they do not really provide much information at all. Sometimes these commonly used words even carry with them the connotation that nothing can be done to help those students because “that’s just the way they are” or worse, “that’s the way his mother/father was.”

The tendency to look at children and describe them with such terms as “lazy,” “shy,” or “mean,” threatens to become part of the culture in some schools. But what do those terms really mean? Looking at these children clinically might lead us to a more helpful assessment of their needs.


Health issues should always be considered when looking at children identified as “lazy.” Low glucose levels may mean there is not enough fuel for the brain, particularly in the morning, so making sure they are eating breakfast is a good first step. Providing snacks at mid-morning is also a good idea along with available water.

Sleep deprivation may be responsible for lethargy, too, so talking with and educating parents about the importance of recommended sleep amounts along with the importance of eating breakfast and staying hydrated may also be helpful.

Physical coordination exercises have worked wonders for me with low energy students. Jumping rope is the single best exercise I have found for them, and typically within two weeks they begin to “brighten up” and participate more in class.

In my experience, “lazy” in teacher language most often means “unmotivated.” Most of the time this means that the learning they are being asked to do is so far out of their context that their brains simply have nowhere to put it. Since we can in a sense really only learn that which we already know, it makes sense that we work very hard to find something in the child’s context to which the learning may be attached.

This is particularly true of middle school students. It is hard work to keep up with what is current for them, and it may require stepping out of our own comfort zones to sample the music, television shows, etc. that are important to them and designing activities related to them.

Identifying each child's area of giftedness is also an essential part of how to motivate students.


When a child is identified as “shy” in teacher language, it could mean that she cannot hear. A large percentage of children who do not do well in school simply cannot hear well. Using sound support in the classroom is a good practice in general, and it should definitely be considered when looking clinically at those who are “shy.”

“Shy” may also mean a lack of confidence.  Physical coordination exercises help children build confidence, and a regimen of skipping, balancing, dribbling a ball, and jumping rope is an excellent strategy. Use of the aesthetics in instruction – music, art, dance, and drama –is also recommended to boost confidence and develop a sense of well being. Allowing children to work with other students in centers or cooperative learning groups is another effective way to build confidence as is the use of Buddy Bucks during tests.

Sometimes children who appear shy may be withdrawn, and this could signal low serotonin levels.  Physical coordination exercises may be of some benefit, but teachers, especially those in middle school, must always be sensitive to signs of clinical depression.

Lowering stress in the classroom is essential for these children, and environmental  changes such as lower lighting may be of some help.

Feelings of hopelessness and loneliness often manifest in students’ writing and artwork. Teachers must be alert to the messages in these assignments and notify the counselor at once of any concerns.

Go to Effective Learning Environment from Teacher Language

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.



It is unclear exactly what this term means in teacher language, but a more accurate word may be “aggressive.” After health issues have been addressed – matters of sleep, glucose, and hydration – we might look to see if the classroom environment could be modified to better support such a child.

Some children, especially little boys, may be over stimulated in the traditional classroom by decorations on the wall and cluttered bookcases. Calming the environment down by covering bookcases and taking down decorations can very helpful in these cases.

Playing Baroque music softly in the background and lowering lighting can help, too, and for some students these environmental changes may have an almost immediate effect. Overhead fluorescent lights can destroy serotonin in the brain, and when these levels become low, typically in the afternoons, though little girls tend to become more withdrawn, little boys become more aggressive.

Providing extra physical coordination activity is a good idea for these students as well, and art activities using Playdoh may also help.

Often these children are out of rhythm so clapping games done to the beat of music are also highly recommended for them.

Note: If any student develops a pattern of bullying other students, it is important to enlist the aid of the school counselor and/or the administration.