Stop teaching that “lazy” means “smart”

What do we do with a student who is performing below their potential? Like the kid that comes into class, and sleeps, forehead pressed to particle board, the whole time, even though he is capable of doing the work?

In a survey I didn’t actually take, four out of five teachers would give that kid a pep talk, including a version of the line, “You’re a really smart kid.”

“You’re a clever kid! We all know you’d be getting 90s if you tried!” It sounds so encouraging. But it’s far less innocuous than it seems.

Because eventually, when he never does work, he becomes not very smart anymore. He hasn’t done any work, or learned anything in three years, and he’s fallen behind.

Unfortunately, he’s internalized our opinion, so he still thinks he’s smart. He has the false idea that he’ll be successful as soon as he starts working. Yes, that’s partially true, but his expectations are set way too high. When he tries again, and success comes slower than expected, he will see the mountain he needs to climb to get back where he was, and quit.

“You’re a clever kid,” translates to, “You’re lazy.” So why don’t we say that?

What if we were honest instead? “You’re a smart kid, but you’re also lazy. And you won’t be smart for long if you don’t start doing the work.”

Because being smart isn’t all that important in life. But being lazy and never accomplishing anything ruins people.