“I am enthusiastic about everything I like.”
Me too, kid. Me too.
This quote has summed up the school year thus far. It was written on an introduction sheet my high school students fill out in the fall. The answer was in response to a question asking about students’ hobbies, interests and things they enjoyed outside of the school day. When I first saw the response, it made me laugh.
I have been struggling with a most important work issue this year: my students.
The year started off as a dream, my new students are kind, polite and well-behaved. They are nice to each other and seem to enjoy attending class. They are rule followers and I have no attendance issues. I see fear though as new concepts are introduced and some students freeze, refusing to attempt an assignment because they might not be The Best. When I give an “experimentation” assignment, (where one tries something ‘new-to-you’ over a period of time) some look at me with tears in their eyes while frantically explaining, “I just don’t know what to do! I don’t have any ideas!”
I teach teenagers. They should be creative and crafty. They should break rules. They should be inappropriate and weird and push every boundary set before them. They should be making mistakes and stupid decisions so they have the opportunity to learn from them before they get much older.
According to my informal data collection, I’m not the only teacher who is perplexed by what is occurring (or not occurring) in the classroom. In response to the question, “How are your classes this year?” the teacher-answers align with what I am experiencing. Everyone I ask says something similar to the following:
“Great!” “The kids are so nice.” “I have really good kids!” “My students this year are really…sweet.”
And then, there is, a very l o n g PAUSE.
No one likes to speak of what comes next so we either exchange knowing looks in silence or avoid eye contact when the subject isn’t changed. Eventually someone will ask the next set of questions:
Compared to other years, how much material have you covered with this group?
(a little more than half of what is typical)
Do your students absorb written information?
Do your classes listen to/follow/comprehend verbal directions?
(not at all)
When you model or demonstrate do they pay attention?
(when they are not checking their phones)
How is their long-term memory? Short term?
(not good at all) (a little better)
Do they ask for help?
(rarely and when they do, they can’t seem to form full sentences)
Can they write?
(not well or they seem to think anything they discover online already belongs to them)
Are your students depressed and anxious? And medicated for these things too?
We all know the kids have changed. Very quickly. Over-the-summer-quickly.
And WE, the teachers, haven’t changed fast enough.
Will starting a twitter account so kids can follow me, in the hopes that a quick tweet may sink in more than eye contact and the sound of my voice, solve anything? Why would one not be bored if one only participates in pre-experiences tried and found to be successful or nice? How can the absence of creative thinking, as a result of incessant standardized testing, be undone? How can we unfreeze fearful young people and get them to try something, anything, new? How can I motivate them to push harder, do better and surpass what they have done before when they don’t know how good a true success feels? How can I communicate that one can do better— especially if one has not tried— without hurting their over-sensitive feelings? How can they understand that, despite everything they have been shown, one doesn’t get a medal, a ribbon or an “A” for just showing up? How will they ever appreciate success if they never attempt (or are allowed to attempt) something they may fail? How will they value efforts and struggles if everything one may be motivated to work for is placed directly in front of one before they even know what they desire?
I am enthusiastic about my students, whom I like. I just feel I no longer know how to teach them.
*alternate titles considered for this post:
the zombie apocalypse is in my classroom
the kids are not alright
it’s not you, it’s me