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.
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