What is a Good Student?

March 12, 2018

Class has started. The teacher is at the whiteboard writing down the vocabulary for the week’s lessons. Of the twenty two kids in the class, three are fervently copying down the notes, with their noses almost touching the paper. A few are simply staring blankly into space. Many are attempting to rub the sleep from their eyes while others have their heads in their arms on the desks, fast asleep, succumbing to the fact that it’s a Monday morning.

It’s fair to say that the three kids already getting their work done are probably good students. But what about the others? Should the sleepy ones be labeled as bad students? Or are there other factors that need to be determined before coming to that conclusion?

What does it really mean to be a “good student?”

“Someone who constantly questions knowledge,” says English Teacher Aaron Fortner. In his opinion, it is more important for students to be critically analytical of the information they’re learning than it is to always get the best grades.

“A lot of times our perception of a good student is someone who does their work, completes tasks, and gets A’s and B’s. I’m not necessarily convinced of that because I know that students who are capable of getting those grades are just as capable of cheating; cutting corners and doing whatever it takes to achieve that,” he shares.

Fortner explains that the dominant narrative of what it takes to be a “good student”  (Getting A’s and B’s and good test scores) skews the ideal circumstance of education and learning. “School then becomes a game. So are we good at pursuing knowledge, or are we good at playing the game?”  he asks. “That becomes the question about what it means to be educated or knowledgeable as a learner in the world.”

So, if being critically analytical of information is the mark of a good student, and grades don’t always hold the truth of a student’s work or work ethic, the does the idea of a “good student” match the label?




According to senior Alyssa Gentri, who considers herself a good student, as long as students put in their best effort and actively participate in the learning process, the grade shouldn’t matter.

“You can have all A’s and be considered a good student, but then you can also get a C in class and that doesn’t necessarily make you a bad student, especially if you’re going in to get extra help and working hard,” Gentri says. “And just because you’re falling short on getting the homework in, it doesn’t mean you’re not a good student because you’re still working really hard to get there and you’re staying engaged and respectful in class.”

And of course, hard work is hard work no matter what form it may come in.

And while work ethic can be measured, it doesn’t always determine a person’s potential or success — and maybe the success of different individuals shouldn’t be compared.

“It’s really important for good students to reach their individual full potential,” says Gentri. “Success for everybody means different things and so that makes it hard to make a comparison. Like, it’s hard to compare someone who got a theatre scholarship to somebody who’s studying nursing and got scholarships in that field.”

And though she believes comparing people’s success is never a good idea, Gentri admits that it happens a lot, especially this time of year, when the senior class begins to find out their peers’ future plans. “It’s almost like the kids who are going to more general-ed colleges or not going to school at all are looked down upon, especially by the kids going to Ivy League schools,” she says, continuing on to explain that just because people’s future lives are going down separate paths. She believes that it doesn’t define their success nor does the title of somebody’s University make them a better or worse student.

“Grades don’t always show what somebody’s potential is or how successful they’ll be in their life, so I don’t think the use of grades is a good way to measure the quality of a student.”




The whole idea of potential is tricky because it suggests that some people should be held to higher standards than others.

It’s also ambiguous: What does it mean? How is it measured?

Schools around the country focus on the letter grade as a substantial reason to define students as good or bad. However, while trying to allow students to reach a certain potential, the very policies the board of education sets as standards for school can make that a challenge, Sometimes,  maybe even impossible.

So, is it reasonable for schools to make standards for their students if it doesn’t allow them to unlock their potential?

“It’s not fair. Can students untap their full potential in math, science, English or their electives if they’re like, ‘Man, I really love Shakespeare but I gotta work 20 hours this week’ What are they supposed to do?” Fortner says.

“Unfortunately, you can’t get through life attending classes — it just isn’t what pays the bills,” says Chance Gugisberg, who graduated at semester of the 2017-2018 school year.

For Gugisberg, the choice to graduate early wasn’t because he hated school. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. “To be honest, I love school… I’m infatuated with the idea of social connectivity and learning. The reason I decided to graduate early is because I thought it would help me get a head start on my life,” Gugisberg explains, now working at his father’s auto-repair shop, “Taking the rest of what would have been the second semester and putting it into working and studying what I personally wanted.”

“And unfortunately, school doesn’t teach you everything. I found that with the closer I got to graduating, the more about the I didn’t know,” says Gugisberg, mentioning that he never learned about jobs and housing or how to do taxes; things he knows to be essential for his future.

For students like Gugisberg, it’s important to realize that just because high school isn’t their number one priority, it should not subject them to the assumption that they’re bad students, nor does it determine their potential.

If being a “good student” means working hard to reach a certain potential in a school system where recognizable success is defined by letter grades, then it poses a great challenge for some students to show their capabilities, such as those like Gugisberg, who have more important things in their life to deal with.

“I think as far as school goes, we want to ensure that people have equal access to unlock their potential so to speak. Does school actually do that? I’m not so sure,” says Fortner.

So, if school needs to change, does that mean a change in grading policies and procedures? Or creating a more flexible class schedule? Or possibly changing the course requirements?

Whichever direction we choose, it will have to address the dominant narrative we have created for the school system. Maybe then, we will be to settle on a definition of “good student.”

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