Do Teachers Still Know What It's like to Be a Student?

A thought that teachers often have when they disagree with administrators is that administrators have been out of the classroom for too long or that they just do not understand what it is like to be a teacher. What I am wondering is if we as teachers are willing to turn that question on ourselves and consider if we still understand what it is like to be a student. I stepped back into that realm this week when I sat in a classroom for 8 hours a day to become certified to teach AP Calculus. After day two I was exhausted, irritable, and lethargic. By day three I would frequently "go to the bathroom" just so I could walk around and take a break (oldest trick in the book). Don't get me wrong, the workshop was important and helpful. I fully believed in the importance of the content we covered each day. The environment was just draining. Now, imagine a teenager in a similar environment when they often do not believe in the importance of the content. Imagine them experiencing that week after week (my workshop was just four days). Can we really be surprised when our students are not invested in their learning or gaining all of the skills that we hope they will gain? The model sets them up to be stressed, exhausted, and miserable.

From the opposite end of this argument, there is the worry that taking this view will cause us to be too soft on students. The thing is, I really can remember what is was like to be in high school. Yeah, I did not get enough sleep and I was stressed sometimes. However, I remember being generally happy and healthy while being successful in my classes. I know that it is possible to be a student in the current model without being totally miserable. The issue is that I only know that it is possible in my own experience. I was met with very few obstacles. I have no idea what it is like to go through school while also dealing with extra responsibilities at home, or while having to work a job to help support the family, or while facing implicit bias and problems arising from institutional racism, or while dealing with learning disabilities, or while dealing with mental health problems, and the list of obstacles that students face today goes on. How quickly we forget though when we are all assigning an hour or more of homework (homework that I believe is rarely actually beneficial for them). How quickly we forget when we have students at the end of the day who are totally checked out. How quickly we forget when we snap at students who have chosen to give something other than our class their attention. If we took a second to remind ourselves what it is like to be a student, then it might make more sense why we consistently see unhappy and unfocused students.

So what is the solution? With the current model, many students are going to be miserable. Some of them will be generally happy and successful and a small subset of that group will actually gain all of the skills and knowledge that we hope they will gain. Are we okay with only really reaching a small subset of students? Any good, reflective teacher will answer no to that question. It is time to get to work.

Comments

  1. Joe - beautifully written. Especially, "Can we really be surprised when our students are not invested in their learning or gaining all of the skills that we hope they will gain? The model sets them up to be stressed, exhausted, and miserable."

    We're preparing students to be employed, flourished, and happy in the "Innovation Age," yet what percent of student-centered time is spent on connecting content to opportunities to create? Even as a teacher myself, I wanted to invent new approaches to teaching based on my Masters and the hours on top of hours of PD experiences I had paid for out of my own pocket to re-create a learning experience environment... and there wasn't a structure in place for that.

    The learning journey continues...

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