I had a student in class recently who appeared completely unengaged. Not looking at me, looking bored, hanging back from interacting with anyone. I almost pulled him aside to say, “Look, if you’re not into this class, maybe you should consider taking it another semester or with a different teacher. Your experience will be better if you get past the fact that it is a required class,” the latter being something I assumed was part of the problem.
When he gave his first speech, which was to be about his most unforgettable experience, he spoke about the experience of coming to college–a real triumph because he has a strong case of agoraphobia. He has real, serious problems even leaving his house. But he recognized he needed a college education to achieve his goals, and he judged that he needed face-to-face classes instead of going the route of completely-online classes. So he did it.
My interpretation of his lack of engagement turned out to be one of his greatest triumphs. What I was reading was simply the surface of his struggles simply to cope with being in that classroom.
Everybody knows the old saying: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” But we’re not psychic. The cover is all we have. That is and (likely) forever will be the case. In itself, that’s not the problem. The problem is in forgetting that fact.