Are We Too Busy Schooling?

Blogger’s Warning:  I’m cranky today.  That means this post is like 20 percent truth and 80 percent emotion.  Take it for what it’s worth.


Can I ask you an uncomfortable question:  How excited are your students about being in school?  Do they regularly get lost in their learning, surprised — maybe even disappointed — when the bell rings to end the class period or the day?  Can you feel a sense of relaxed joy when you walk into your building?  Do your students smile and laugh often?

Or are they just counting the minutes until the end of the day?

(click here to enlarge, download and view original image credits on Flickr)


Here’s why I ask:  I don’t think my kids care about my class.

There.  I said it.

Don’t get me wrong:  They are a GREAT bunch.  One of the best that I’ve had in years.  They come to school ready to listen and ready to follow directions and ready to finish any task that I put in front of them.  But they are also ready to bolt the minute that class ends.  I know they care about ME.  It’s my class that they can’t seem to stand.

That bothers me.

On the bad days, I feel like a Busker — fighting for attention and hoping to entertain just long enough to get kids interested in my lessons.  On the really bad days, I feel like a taskmaster — doing little more than keeping the peace and enforcing the rules for 50 minutes at a time.  I rarely feel like a mentor or a coach or a role model or any of those other beautiful terms that we use to describe the Mr. Hollands or the Dead Poet Society teachers that we love to make movies about.

And it ain’t like I’m not TRYING.  In fact, I think I try pretty darn hard.  My lessons are full of hands on activities.  I use technology as much as possible.  I’ve got a collection of quirky takes on the topics in our required curriculum that generally leave kids wondering just long enough to get my hopes up that I might have them hooked.

But in the end, I’m still teaching a required curriculum.

Whether my students like it or not, we are going to spend the next 120 days marching through content that someone else decided was important.  And I won’t deviate too far from those requirements out of fear of failing to cover everything that I was supposed to cover.  Even though I work for good people who want my class to be creative and inventive, the pressure to comply — a function of the “accountability culture” that has had education in a professional death-grip for the past decade — feels all too real to me.

Imagining and inspiring and wondering and questioning are a remnant of a simpler time when we cared about “the whole child.”  That kind of stuff happened in open classrooms.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

My guess is that MOST kids experience that same forced march through the required curriculum in every class, every day, every year from kindergarten to twelfth grade.  

Need proof?  Ask yourself this:  When was the last time that you created space for students to study something — ANYTHING — that they cared about?  When was the last time that you gave them a real choice in what they were going to learn or when they were going to learn it?  And I’m not talking about “you may choose to create a poem or write an essay or make a comic strip to demonstrate mastery of the content in today’s lesson” choices.  I’m talking about “the next thirty minutes are yours.  How would you like to spend it?” choices.

The stakes are too high to create space for that kind of genuine ownership over the time kids spend in our schools, aren’t they?  

We’re too busy schooling.



Related Radical Reads:

Being Responsible for Teaching the Bored

How Engaged are YOUR Students?

The REAL Board Bored of Education


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  • BillIvey

    Well. There it is.

    But in the end, I’m still teaching a required curriculum… a function of the ‘accountability culture’ that has had education in a professional death-grip for the past decade” Yup. Precisely. #sheeshdoesn’tcoveritchat

    Do you know @Sisyphus38 on Twitter? Very much like you – progressive, creative, brilliant, kid-focused, and raging against the cage that is contemporary educational policy. This morning, he quoted Seymour Papert from this article in Edutopia as saying, “Well, first thing you have to do is to give up the idea of curriculum.” He also asked, “What fear narratives do schools work under?” I think there’s incredible insight in even asking the question in the first place. Really. What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks are we (and/or policy makers) so scared of? I wrote, “I’d start, for perhaps obvious reasons, with the fear that kids are dangerous (a.k.a. “disrespectful”) if left uncontrolled.” and Bruce L. Smith responded, “Either dangerous or utterly incapable of learning and becoming effective adults without constant direction & evaluation.”

    If any of that is true (and I obviously) think it is, then the way out has to begin with us as a society learning to actually like and trust kids, not fear them and/or dismiss them out of hand. And that really should be achieveable.

    Should it not?


  • YaaAdomaObeng

    “The stakes are too high to
    “The stakes are too high to create space for that kind of genuine ownership over the time kids spend in our schools, aren’t they?”

    Bill, the forced march is even worse here in Mali, West Africa. Ok, so my response is also 20% truth and 80% emotion. How do I get to give students a chance to study what they REALLY want, when, as you wrote, I am teaching to a required curriculum?

    How do I break out of that mold?


  • JuliaStern

    We need to find a balance

    I do see your point for sure.  We are given curriculum/standards that we are required to teach.  I don’t know what grade you teach, I teach first graders and on most days they are excited about most everything.  I do sometimes get groans and moans about something I am teaching.  I agree that somehow we need to find a balance between teaching the required standards/curriculum and giving kids choice/ownership of their learning. I do feel that the parts of my day in which they get choice in their learning is during my reading & writing workshop times.  My kids have their own book boxes filled with leveled books at their reading level and then other books that are of interest to them.  They get choice on the books from their reading levels along with what interests them from books in my library.  Two books that I read this summer that really helped me were by Donalyn Miller “The Book Whisper” and “Reading In the Wild”.  These helped me to see that I need to grow life long reading habits in my students and to get kids excited and take ownership of their own reading.  My first graders often cheer when it is time to read books from their book boxes and that is definitely music to my ears!

  • NatalieThompson

    Taking the Fun out of the Fundamentals

    I also often wonder if we are taking the fun out of schooling for the students.  It seems as if every engaging, fun, unique project I use to do has been replaced by some sort of standard that MUST be covered and I must measure the student’s growth at every turn so I have documentation that each child is learning.  Meanwhile, I sometimes look out into the sea of faces and see them drifting out the window wishing they were out of the building having fun rather than doing yet another day of some kind of assessment.  I agree that we need to have balance, but should our students miss out on just being kids as well?  I remember when we could put everything aside to work on our Christmas art project so the teacher could hang our decorations from the ceiling to make our room festive.  Those fun projects that encouraged creativity seem to be going to the wayside.  I too worry if not for my students, then for my own children that they are soon going to loose their identity and just become a number with data attached to it.  It is definitely something to ponder……are we doing too much schooling???

  • Shawn Shotts

    Reflection as a Resource?

    I think every teacher at some point needs time to vent. I enjoyed reading your blog and using this as your platform to do so. I respect and appreciate your perspective on your students and curriculum as a whole. We as teachers struggle to find creativity when it seems our main purpose is so data-oriented. We can do so much for them, but we must teach to meet the numbers for our accountability. I think that continuous self reflection on our teaching can help us think about ideas on what will work with our students and what will not work.