There are a number of students or more precisely student-types who often prove to be "the best students in the world" for teachers and not necessarily in terms of achievement, dedication or passion. Please note, in the interests of fairness, I will alternative genders in describing each student as "John" or "Jane." Apologies to any real Johns or Janes out there. Any offence caused is purely unintentional.
Here are my "best students in the world":
1. John, the asker of a million questions
Everyone has had at least one of these students, most probably more than once! He, the "why, why. why" student has a unique ability to "disrupt" even the most relaxed teacher's decorum and highly organised lesson. What makes John so good is that more often not, this student is the class's devil advocate. They may be that interested but in reality, this John is prepared to ask the questions everyone else in the class wants asked but who don't have the confidence or the right words. Ironically John in today's modern learning environment, would probably make an excellent teacher!
2. Jane, the disengaged, disillusioned
In my more than 15 years of teaching, forget poor behaving or rude students, a student like Jane is by far the toughest proposition in the high school classroom. Jane normally is pretty intelligent, (often very) but regardless of how brilliant a planner or presenter you think you are, these students are the ones that really test the depth of your pedagogy-in-action and your ability to differentiate, often in the moment. In my experience, such disengagement, disillusionment is nothing personal, a fact that makes the situation almost all the more frustrating. Jane is the litmus test for any teacher, find a way to use her knowledge, background, get her to lead the class, find out about her previous educational experiences. There is invariably a way in, time and patience and looking at the education from Jane's line of sight and thinking often sees victory ...but not always.
3. John the arguer
If you're a confident teacher and who is prepared to think and teach laterally, this student is often the one that either gets a subject scholarship and becomes a teacher, or is regularly in the senior management corridor awaiting another stand-down or suspension. A few years, I had the most memorable student in such a light. I taught this student as a 15 year old in Year 11 where we pretty much argued about everything in English for the entire year. Every academic argument was apparently "won" by this student, much to their delight. The following year, I did not teach this student (by mutual agreement, I believe and a little by chance). In this year, John did pretty much everything he could to get "kicked out" of his English class. I recall at least twice intervening on his behalf, pointing out privately to his teacher of the time that this was this student's unique way of learning and understanding the English curriculum, and also pointing out to the teacher concerned that for the most part, John was usually right. In the last year of his high school career (there was no way he was ever going to be allowed to repeat!), we found ourselves once again simultaneously friends and foes. Proudly announcing to me at the year's commencement that he was not going to write any class notes at all to which I replied "Your choice, don't really care!", the lines were drawn. By the end of the year, John still hadn't written any class notes but had excelled in all his assessments and also "cruised" (his words!) to a national subject scholarship in English, all thanks to his own innate ability apparently. Last I heard, this little upstart was a teacher!
4. Jane the leader
Much like in the "Lord of the Flies", every class has the "alpha" male or female. Whether teachers admit it publically, get this Jane on side and as early as possible, life and class learning becomes a whole lot easier and more productive, and quicker. These students are the best in that they are natural leaders (regardless of their choice or awareness). In most cases, even the most academically capable and/or independent student will defer to Jane. In many cases, Jane leads by action and very rarely by words. These students are often seen as a threat to teacher control and authority in the classroom but in my experience, they are usually invaluable as a moulder and role-model in the classroom setting. Give Jane responsibility and legitimate leadership opportunities in the classroom and you'll often find that these students are highly motivated to serve and support your expectations and academic vision for students.
5. John the bored
A student like this John used to scare the daylights out of me when I first started teaching. I'd spend days (okay, hours!) planning the most perfect lesson on the most amazing text only to hear within 10-15 minutes of the greatest lesson of earth commencing "Can't we do something interesting?...Miss did this last year." Why you little @*#@#@!" (just joking!). Nowadays, I've learnt that these students for the most part are not deliberately trying to ruin your lesson or your life. They don't care that much about either! What John does care about is being engaged and being passionate about what he is learning. They need to be connected, personally at one with their academic undertakings. I remember years ago starting the classic anti-capitalism tale of Death of a Salesman with a Year 12 class. They knew, I knew within one lesson that they didn't care for this play. The whole class of Johns (and indeed Janes in this collective case) didn't even need to explicitly tell me. It was all in their monotonous reading, their hesitancy to take a role. Solution? In a ground-breaking move, I asked the Johns what they wanted to study. Much to my surprise, a middle-ability class of 17 year old students from Orewa College subsequently became engrossed in the fortunes of Maria & Tony, the Jets & the Sharks...that's right WEST SIDE STORY! Once again, the freedom of choice offered to John (and Jane) paid huge dividends in terms of engagement, enjoyment and ultimately achievement...as I knew it would!
6. Jane the technician
I am and always will be first and foremost in the classroom, an English teacher, about as far removed from either an electrician or IT professional as one can be. The number of times, I have cursed the red, white and yellow RCA cords and their failure to engage with a tv, video recorder (yes, I go that far back!) or dvd player to the eventual disruption of a lesson and my perfectly crafted learning activity. Jane the technician to the rescue! Jane is only to happy to fix the tv, assist others with their Wi-Fi access, download GAFE to student phones and do it without any attempt to usurp your authority in the class. This type of Jane is heaven-sent. My current Jane by the time I ask if she can help me has already done the necessary work, with a smile and before time! To all the teachers out there who struggle with digital technology, embrace Jane, do not fear her. In fact in case one is away, try and have two!
Jane & John- the carers/class parents
This John and Jane often find little engagement in the lesson content, more often than not, they are preoccupied with the welfare of their fellow students. They put the wellbeing and safety of their peers ahead of any academic content. In primary schools, they are the ambulances, the ones first on the scene when anyone is hurt, the first to recommend treatment and the first to notify the authorities. The beauty of this John and Jane is that they remind teachers and students that education is and should always first and foremost be about people first, then learning, then content. They are the moral compasses of the class alongside the teacher, and in the best cases are never afraid to highlight a student concern or misgiving. These are often our future counsellors, doctors, nurses, carers so be nice to them. You may require their professional services in later life.
There are many other Janes and Johns out there but all of them mentioned or otherwise create and empower the necessary learning conditions to build effective, constructive citizens. The diversity and differing talents of every Jane and John needs to be encouraged, acknowledged and celebrated. The classroom and learning would be much poorer for their absence.