July means that every once in awhile I get moment of teacher panic attack. It’s not like August or a Sunday night school year panic, just a subtle, “the clock is ticking,” moment, a nudge in the direction of panic. It usually happens when I stumble across something on Pinterest like, “How to pack a perfect, healthy lunch for your first grader,” that sends me down the rabbit hole.
Sometimes, it’s Twitter. I mean, I love me some Twitter, but sometimes the trending tweets on education just make want me to get in the ring. Typically, I just roll my eyes and move on. I am floored, constantly, by the fingers that point to what teachers are doing wrong. It’s never the intent. It is always veiled as a way to make education better, but it’s kind of like your mom telling you that your new dress is cute, but “not very flattering”, and you just KNOW what that means.
Professional advice in 140 characters or less…wow, all of my work problems are solved! I know it is perhaps just food for thought or something that someone found especially interesting and they are just sharing it, but I think I might need to limit my Twitter use to following The Bachelorette hashtag.
First, though, allow me to step in the ring. Today I read a tweet about reasons students might not like class. These were listed by @fastcranny and they are excellent reasons why kids might not like my class. “One, the content isn’t relevant enough, two the work isn’t challenging enough, or three, you aren’t nice enough.” I believe all of those things to be true reasons, and even though nice may not seem relevant, nice is EVERYTHING. Do you want to go to a mean ob-gyn? No, of course not. Mean mechanic? No. So, yes, nice is part of the job. Might those three observations be open to debate and reflection? Sure. Might they make some teachers feel defensive? I suppose so. My issue is not with the tweet. My defensive side came out with @iPadAgTeacher’s reply, “I believe you nailed it! Unfortunately, many teachers do not want to reflect on this one as it hits too close to home.”
At the heart of this response is one of the main reasons I believe teachers feel defensive about their role in education. A teacher’s lack of willingness is not to blame here. Disengaged students are not solely the teachers fault. First of all, if the “content isn’t relevant,” or if the work isn’t “challenging enough,” there is not a lone teacher responsible for this. Rigorous, relevant, engaging curriculum, is created by teams of teachers, overseen by administrators, approved by curriculum committees, who are overseen by directors, yada, yada, yada. Are some teachers better at delivering it? You bet. Some teachers suck, no doubt. Some mechanics suck. I just cannot think of another profession in which we single handedly blame everyone in it for a complex and systemic problem.
The hot new topic in education is “engagement.” Nothing wrong with engagement. I want my kids to feel engaged. Teachers should “reflect” on this “too close to home” topic and all will be fixed. Insert eye-roll. Yes, teachers can learn to become better, more engaging teachers. I am a better teacher now than I was twenty years ago. I hope to get better next year. My assumption is that the majority of my peers feel similarly about their own growth as educators. So I am willing to reflect on areas of improvement when it comes to engagement, but for arguments sake, let’s assume that my course content is relevant and challenging and that for the most part, I am very nice. Engagement, solved? Not so fast. Are 100% of my students engaged, even after I spend sleepless nights worrying about how to catch them all? No. They aren’t. Sometimes “relevant” is relevant to a whole bunch of other stuff.
Reasons My High School Students May Not Like My Class:
- They are hungry. Really hungry.
- They are tired.
- They are pre-occupied with something else that they really love (I mean, my content is cool, but they love riding horses, playing volleyball, performing in the play, leading the chess club to victory MORE, and to be honest with you, that is just human).
- They are in trouble.
- They are battling addiction.
- They are battling an autoimmune disease.
- They are being abused or abandoned or bullied
- They were recently raped.
- They are paralyzed with social anxiety.
- They are over or under medicated.
- Our traditional seven period day is outdated.
- We have too few guidance counsellors for too many students.
- We have little training or understanding about mental health and anxiety disorders to adequately address student need.
- There are too many students crammed into the room and they are too shy to approach me and I am too overwhelmed to notice.
- The extreme temperature changes from classroom to classroom is making them crabby.
- They are tired of sitting still (ever sit in a 7 hour long meeting with only 20 minutes for lunch? Yeah? How’d that go?)
- We simply aren’t a personality match. I know my own kid had a great teacher once, but he didn’t like her because she was “too happy.”
- They are high as a kite.
- Someone they love is dying.
- They feel lonely.
- They are dealing with sexuality or gender related issues.
- They have an eating disorder.
- They are battling 12 of the above.
- They have been labeled as learning disabled or gifted and then forgotten about.
- We have made their school day 12x more annoying than it need be because we have a dress code that frets about hats and shoulders and by the time I get them sixth hour, they have been in battle mode with three or more teachers who have made comments about their physical appearance and it has not gone unnoticed that the pretty, popular athletic girl has not been picked on once, even though she is in clear violation of the sexist and outdated policy.
- We have banned cell phone use, even at lunch, even though I don’t know a single adult who goes 8 hours without checking their text messages.
- There are kids in the class that he or she cannot stand and even though I am a super nice teacher with amazing lessons, all this kid can focus on his how four years ago that kid disinvited them to a birthday party and now all they want to do is find a way to escape my class.
- They haven’t taken the prerequisite course and it was waived without my consent and I didn’t find out until it was too late to drop the course.
- They are living out of their car.
- Their parent kicked them out.
- They work full time.
- They are responsible for raising their younger siblings.
- Their parent is an addict and is never home and the student is so worried about anyone finding out that they spend their entire class time inventing a good cover.
- Their parents are in the middle of a horrific custody battle.
- Their great parents are getting divorced.
- Their sibling is critically ill.
- Their grandparent died.
- Their parent just lost their job.
- Their parent committed suicide.
- They don’t have heat or electricity at home.
- Teacher lacks passion for subject
- Teacher is too hung up on rewards and punishments
- Teacher only allows students to have three passes a semester.
- Student is struggling with the transition from a small private school to a large public high school.
- Student has been asked to do yet another Google Slideshow (“power pointless,” says my kick ass colleague.”)
- The boy they like is talking to someone else now.
- They tripped in front of their whole gym class three months ago and to this day, it’s all they can think about
- Snap chat drama
- Prom dress never arrived.
- Parent enables, demeans, helicopters, embarrasses them (if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother, right?)
I could go on here. I could go on for a long time. If anyone has any ideas on how to make my challenging content more relevant to each item above for thirty kids a class, six periods a day, I am all ears. Here is the thing about teaching: It all hits too close to home.
Maria Montessori said that, “the greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘the children are now working as if I did not exist.'” She also said that, “of all things, love is the most potent.” So yes, provide a killer curriculum, keep it relevant, and be nice, but above all remember all that young, vulnerable minds balance, and translate that to love. Then remember that you love it all so much that you need to put on armor, shield yourself, cover your buttons, because much of the world agrees that you aren’t willing to reflect or engage or grow.