2 Types of Kids: Students & Coasters +1

As I reflect on the past 19+ years of my experience as an educator, and of the many years before that as a student, I think I’m finally able to make some calls. To act as an umpire and begin to call ’em as I see ’em. And one of those calls today is that I believe we have created 2 basic types of kids in our classrooms: the Student and the Coaster.

What’s the difference in the 2 types, you ask? I’m glad you asked.

English: A group shot of Excel kids in a class...

English: A group shot of Excel kids in a classroom at Hope Chapel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s start with the Coaster…this is the kid who slides by with “D is for diploma” figuratively tattooed across her forehead. She misses school regularly, has skills gaps that might have started in early elementary school, and truly, school tops the list of things in life she cares LEAST about. If she’s “successful,” she graduates with a High School diploma. Many Coasters don’t even do that. And there’re many reasons she’s become a Coaster. Some of it may have to do with unmet learning styles. Some of it may be a/n un/diagnosed learning disability. Some of it may be from situations outside of school. Regardless, in school, she’s a Coaster. Life is tough for Coasters in and often, beyond school.

We’ve created them by ignoring them, their specific needs, and their interests in lieu of trying to force them to come to the status quo. And we’ve failed them.

Shifting to the second type of kid, let’s talk about the Student. Most of our NCLB-style structure (and even for a few decades in the early/mid-1900’s) has caused us to create Students in our classrooms. You know, the kids who have learned how to play the game of school and by high school, they have learned how to get by with the least amount of effort possible, while still maintaining some level of “success” beyond what the Coasters have? These Students are just waiting for us to tell them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. And once they’ve been handed this information, then they’ll produce something passable enough to keep them moving at the pace that gives them the reward they’re looking for. For some, the reward is achieving the Honor Roll. For some, it’s just keeping their parents appeased, which keeps access going to the cell phone, the family car, hanging out with friends, or whatever reward they are willing to jump through the hoops for.

We’ve created these kids by asking them to come to our order; to comply. And in order to achieve the rewards they wanted (or avoid negative rewards), they have become terrific Students.


There seems to be one other type of kid, and this type is actually fewer in number. These are kids who have pretty much completely slipped through the cracks of our current educational structure. These kids have almost accidentally become one of the third type… They’ve become Learners. And they’ve become Learners in spite of what our educational expectations have been.

See, these are the kids who are voracious at gathering information and skills and who aren’t afraid to take smart risks. The Learners are the ones who are ready to analyze a failure (or a finish line) to see what they could and should do differently next time when they’re presented with a similar situation. I don’t want Coasters or Students in my classroom. I want LEARNERS.

I want kids who are ready to actually make a difference in their world…and therefore in mine as well.

Kids on the bus

Kids on the bus (Photo credit: roarpett)

Which kids do you want?

And what are you doing to get them there? How are we intentionally shifting our school environments to intentionally create Learners?

Because our two other options just aren’t cut out to make it in tomorrow’s world.

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Written by GingerLewman

  1. Is it possible to switch between types? I was a student for a long time before I figured out that I could be a learner instead…

    • I sure do think we can switch. I know I did when I hit my Master’s program: instant and voracious Learner!

      • and I think we often switch roles depending on the environment and situation as well – maybe a “student” in one setting and a “learner” in another depending on the teacher, or even “in” or “out” of school!

        • Great point, Cindy! I know that while I’m now an innate Learner, I can very easily slide back into Student habits when the environmental expectations become too rigid or not challenging.

  2. […] course, quietly and effortlessly exceeding the (pathetically minimal) standard we set for him.  In Ginger Lewman’s amazing classification, he’s a Student, not a Coaster.  But in Ginger’s terms, he isn’t a Learner […]

  3. […] participation and growth of the learner. And, for the record, I do mean Learner, not Student. I have blogged about the difference between Learner and Student. Please do go check that out; it’s a short […]

  4. […] why they encourage self-centered, unreal interactions – the ways of the Coaster and Student in Ginger Lewman’s terms – among teachers, students, administrators, and families?  Do Powers That Be, Sources of Funds, […]

  5. […] As I reflect on the past 19+ years of my experience as an educator, and of the many years before that as a student, I think I'm finally able to make some calls. To act as an umpire and begin to cal…  […]

  6. […] that was to occur repeatedly throughout my career as a student (I use that word intentionally: read here to see why). She was strict, no-nonsense, and knew us better than we knew ourselves. I thrived in […]

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