The 6 Types of Students You'll Have in Your First Class


We talked to veteran teachers here at to identify the most common types of students you'll encounter in the classroom. Read about the good and the bad of each type as well as your plan of action for interacting with them so that you feel prepared!

The Overachiever

This is the kid who really wants to get a 4.0. Oh, who are we kidding? He wants a 4.5. The Overachiever dreams about going to Yale the same way other kids dream about the next season of Game of Thrones. It probably doesn't help that Mom and Dad are monitoring his grades on a three-times-daily basis. If the Overachiever raises his hand, it's probably to ask about how the test will be scored.

Boy doing homework

The Good: The Overachiever doesn't hesitate to go the extra ten or fifteen miles. He's thorough, detail-oriented, and never late to class. In fact, he might even get there before you do.

The Bad: For the Overachiever, school is a game and he is going to win. Tests and quizzes? Easy. More open-ended, creative projects? Terrifying. Group projects? Oh, hell no. ''You mean my grade depends on somebody else?? ''

Your Plan of Action : Gently nudge at the Overachiever's comfort zone. It's up to you to work with him on getting over the fear of stepping out of the box. And by box, we mean traditional, structured instruction. According to a 2011 study in Science, students perform dramatically better when they are more actively engaged in the learning process, meaning that extra little push the Overachiever needs to get there will be well worth it.

The Underachiever

This kid is more interested in napping than learning. Other things he finds more interesting than school? Video games, YouTube, watching paint dry... He just wants to get his Cs and get outta there. Graduation day couldn't come any sooner.

The Good: Unlike the Overachiever, the Underachiever can actually excel at out-of-the-box thinking because he doesn't thrive in the traditional classroom structure. He responds well to one-on-one engagement.

Student sleeping at desk

The Bad: The tardy slips pile up with this one. The homework doesn't. He certainly can't be bothered to do the assigned reading. Heck, he's sometimes too lazy to even watch the movie.

Your Plan of Action : Find the spark. Ignite it. Your job is to help the Underachiever find his passions and cultivate them. A study done at Stanford in 2015 suggests that getting your Underachiever to believe that he can learn, grow, and achieve a purpose in life can make a big difference - and that it might be as easy as a quick Internet-based intervention. After all, you can't spell ''Underachiever '' without ''achieve. '' Or something cheesy like that.

The Tough One

Sure, he might have a few behavioral problems, but he's pretty charming. His problems range from a defiant attitude to strained dynamics with his peers. He probably has a lot going on at home and you're just witnessing the parts of it that have spilled over into the classroom.

The Good: The Tough One might just be one of your favorite students to interact with, probably because he's had to grow up a lot quicker than his peers. It can be very rewarding to work with him one-on-one.

The Bad: He's the most common cause of distractions in your classroom. He'll test your boundaries and your disciplinary style, whatever it may be. With a kid this checked out, it can be quite the uphill battle to get him to buy back in.

Your Plan of Action: The Tough One will likely take a disproportionate amount of your time and energy because, well, he needs it most. He benefits from warmth and consistency in the classroom, potentially because it's the only place he can get it. Unfortunately, there's no one way to address his issues. Chances are, your work will involve a combination of one-on-one time, empathetic listening, and truly understanding his academic and personal struggles.

The Class Clown

Her future might be at SNL, but for now, she'll settle for cracking jokes in your 4th period Physics class. And she's actually pretty good at it. Who knew there were so many puns to be made about Bunsen burners?

The Good: School can get a little dreary, even for you. The Class Clown can lighten the mood at the right time. The whole class appreciates the boost in morale.

The Bad: Kids gets easily distracted. The Class Clown can derail your instruction, take over a discussion, or cause an uproar.

Your Plan of Action: Harness her desire to be in front of the class. Public speaking is her specialty. The Class Clown doesn't need encouragement so much as clear, well-enforced boundaries around appropriate times for input.

The Teacher's Pet

His is the first hand up when you ask a question, the one encouraging face in the crowd during a particularly painful lecture, and the loudest laugh when you make a joke. He keeps you rolling in Starbucks gift cards during the holiday season… Thanks, Teacher's Pet.


The Good: It's pretty awesome to have a student who always volunteers to collect the tests, answer the phones, or watch the class when you need desperately an unexpected bathroom break.

The Bad: Ever wonder how the Teacher's Pet finds time to eat lunch in your classroom every day despite his busy social schedule? Yeah, he probably doesn't have one. Unfortunately, the Teacher's Pet is often engaging with you because of problematic social dynamics with his peers.

Your Plan of Action: He might be desperately asking for extra attention, but don't allow the Teacher's Pet to suck up all of your energy. It'll help the both of you if you treat him the same as everybody else. Even if it means you'll have to pay for your own latte every once in a while.

The Golden Student

Every once in a while, you hit the jackpot in the form of a kid who genuinely loves learning. She's smart, put-together, a jack of all trades. Her head is in the right place. She probably has her stuff together more than you do.

The Good: She's not afraid to take on a challenge. Rather than seeing it as a judgment of her intelligence, The Golden Student approaches failure as an opportunity for growth. She goes the extra mile, not for the A+, but for the love of learning. It's refreshing, inspiring, and exactly what you were hoping for when you got into this profession.

The Bad: You might notice a little bit of resentment from the Golden Student's peers. After all, she's set the bar impossibly high. As for you? You can't help but miss her when she's moved on to bigger and better things.

Your Plan of Action : Challenge her. According to Dr. Don Ambrose at Rider University, ''Seventy percent of… kids who are high ability are underachieving.'' Sure, it might be inevitable that the Golden Student get bored every once in a while, but letting her slip by unengaged? That'd be a tragedy. Do your part, and in ten or fifteen years, when you're watching her delivering some important speech on TV, you'll realize it was all worth it.

Looking for resources that can help engage all types of students? Explore's Teacher Edition!

By Jessica Lyons
November 2018
teachers teacher tips & tricks

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