Do You Know Me? The Voice of a Disgruntled Student in a Boring Class
Dear Boring Teacher,
Do you know me? I’m the sixteen year-old bedecked in hand-me-down Nikes, baggy jeans that reveal a little too much of my Hanes boxers, and a faded t-shirt that says something borderline rebellious to bolster my cool points but under the radar just enough to avoid trouble in school. My name might be Juan, David, Sebastian, Terrance, Niran, or Abdul. Doesn’t matter. Totally irrelevant. But for the sake of moving forward here, let’s just call me Student X. Heck, I feel like a data entry most days anyway.
Do you know me? I sit in the back left corner of your classroom of thirty-five teenagers. If you look beyond my embarrassing acne and disheveled hair, you’ll surely get a glimpse of my zombie eyes. But don’t mistake them. It’s not that I’m geekin’ on some drug of the week. No. Far from it. In fact, if you knew me, my true character, you would know that I detest those poisons. Nah, the glazed-over trance as evidenced by my eyes is strictly boredom induced. You see, it’s simple. I hate your class.
Do you know me? You may find it hard to believe, but I’m quite the creative talent. Rather secretly, of course. It’s not like I get the chance to show it in your classroom. Bet you didn’t know I have my own studio at home, did you? I’m not trying to tell any lies ‘cause you know the truth is that my studio isn’t much to look at. An old Lowe’s outdoor shed the previous renters used to store their lawnmower and yard gear. Well, you know what I did? I ran some extension cords and lights out to my musical get-a-way. Later on, I scored big on a hoard of cupholders from Mickey D’s and tacked those cheap acoustic pieces all over my studio. With help from my more affluent friends, we added the essentials: a laptop with Mixcraft, a couple of old mics, and whatever else we could squeeze into that tiny shack. Even a couple of guitars. Honestly, you might be surprised by my talent. Not to brag, but I play with figures of speech like Kevin Durant toys with opponents with the orange rock in his hand. No matter how you look at it, we both drop it like it’s hot and create the thunder.
Do you know me? Chances are….no. You see, when my afternoons are filled loading our own YouTube channel with jams written and performed by me and my friends, those dang worksheets you drop on my desk every day don’t inspire me too much. Nope! Probably won’t ever hear me say, “That worksheet really changed my life.” Truthfully speaking, I stare back at those sheets with enough anger and frustration that it’s a darn miracle they don’t spontaneously combust. Be kind of funny if they did catch fire, though. Maybe I’d get a little attention while sparking some interest in the class.
Do you know me? I don’t think so. Just curious, though. Why can’t we be creative in your class? Why can’t we take the assigned standards, get with some of our peers, and create to show you what we know? Never can tell. We may just blow your mind. Think about it. Wouldn’t it be awesome to sit back with your grading rubrics and listen and watch as your students amaze you with authentic projects that tap into their own personal interests while mastering the learning concepts? It would be like an educational party. You might even hop out of bed the morning of the presentations with a rekindled spirit for teaching. Lord knows, any flash of excitement or energy would be an improvement from your normal lethargic, I-don’t-want-to-be-here-but-I-have-to persona. Just sayin’. If you need any help getting over your self-imposed impediment for allowing students to be creative, just pretend there is a universal standard that reads like this: “Ignited by the opportunity for creative expression and fueled by talent-based, intrinsic motivation, students will relentlessly pursue higher truths and knowledge to create lives replete with challenges, service, integrity, happiness, fulfillment, and success.” We can call this standard TSBR-US1 (“This Should Be Reality-Universal Standard #1). It may not be too common in many classes, but I promise it will go right to the core of all students’ learning spirits.
Do you know me? I’m a social being. I’m on Twitter, SnapChat, and Instagram. Of course, my favorite form of socializing is simply talking to my friends…face-to-face. You might never know any of this ‘cause I’m quiet as a mouse in your class. I tried the first week to collaborate across the aisle, but my will and the will of my peers was broken by the threat of being written up. Some things just aren’t worth fighting for. Especially if it awards me I.S.S., in-school-suspension, where I will undoubtedly be quiet for at least eight hours. But I get it. I guess you don’t want to lose control of the class. Control…hmmm. What an illusion. The interesting thing is, however, that a class of engaged and excited learners would probably run through a brick wall to prove to you how well they can communicate with their peers and prove their mastery of the standards. That sounds like control to me.
Do you know me? I love technology. Especially my smartphone. In fact, I call it a palmtop. Yep. It can do just about everything I need a laptop to do. There’s just one problem. Rule #1 posted on your classroom wall states, “Absolutely no smartphones allowed. Any visible smartphones will be confiscated and delivered to the office.” I’m quite sure I understand the reasoning behind this rule. I wonder, are you aware of the gazillion apps that could help me organize my thoughts and interact with the assigned content? I mean, Evernote and the Google Drive apps alone could revolutionize my experience at school. If nothing else, they would at least get this backpack full of heavy-as-lead textbooks off my back. But, I know, I know. I hear it all the time. Teachers keep thinking this technology fad will blow over. Maybe you think the same. I’m sure when the automobile was created there were many people unwilling to give up their horses. I can hear them now: “I don’t need no darned auto-mo-bile when I got my trusty horse. Why would I need to get anywhere in an efficient manner?” Yep. They probably thought the new technology-on-wheels would fizzle out. You know…kind of like the light bulb did. Well, since the world now has more smartphones than toilets, perhaps it is time to flush that notion down the drain.
Sorry this letter wasn’t written a bit better. It would certainly be a stronger composition if I were allowed to learn my way. You know, brainstorm with my peers, look up resources on the internet, speak my essay into my phone using Dragon Dictation, and ultimately create a heartfelt essay that would jolt you back into the year 2014. But instead, I simply completed my assigned worksheet in a matter of minutes and spent the remaining class time scratching this out. Bet you didn’t know that.
But maybe you know me by now.
The funny thing is…
I’ll never forget you.
Dear Student X,
I hear you. I feel your pain.
I, too, create. I leave this classroom each day and dream of the ways to reach every student because I consider them all "my kids."
But like you, I am bored. And frustrated.
I am restrained by federal and state regulations that REQUIRE I force you to learn certain things in a certain way.
i am restrained by local standards that require hours and hours of written documentation -- usually with no direct impact on you and I in the classroom.
I am restrained by an administration -- and even colleagues -- who insistently adhere to outdated and archaic education models.
I am forced to 'self-censor' my lessons because I have used new and useful methods of instruction and assessment and received excellent results. When another teacher pointed out my "unorthodox" teaching methods, I received a 'warning" from my principal; a permanent mark on my employment history.
I also have a family to feed and absolutely cannot lose my job.
So lets help each other and work together to improve your school day. Let's make it so your education is meaningful and worthwhile. And NOT boring to either of us.
Get your parents involved. Have them contact school officials, local politicians, state and federal legislators.
They'll never forget US.
Wow! Awesomely written. Thanks so much for your honest and helpful feedback. May you and your students together create a magical classroom. Blessings...
Firstly, thank you for writing this. Great piece.
I try to encourage the teachers we work with to let go of their need for control, and allow for collaboration, idea formation, brainstorming in real valuable ways. I've always felt like "worksheets" are the bane of the student experience. They didn't even bother trying to hide how awful they are in the name... work... sheet. Sounds enthralling. You touched on some very important aspects, and the perspective was real. I deal with these kids everyday. Kids who are disenfranchised, creative, hemmed-in. Students who are undoubtedly brilliant, intelligent, forward-thinking, and who still struggle constantly. Kids who can compose the entire score for their school musical when they are in 10th grade, but don't know if they'll get into college. And worse yet, don't know if they want to, don't know why they would go.
We teach the steps of the scientific method and stress how important it is to do "the boring parts" of taking notes and measurements, making sure the experiment is "replicable." Seriously? You outlined exactly how to do the whole experiment on a worksheet, and then again on a whiteboard in front of the room. You told us how it should turn out, and that if it doesn't we must have done something wrong. So why, then, would I want to record that info again? Teach a question. Teach curiosity. Make me want to record my results because if I didn't then I would be lost. Put me in a situation that looks like real life. So what if someone else has already figured out the theorem, figured out the reaction, figured out the "best" way to write a paragraph? Show me, involve me, let me desire to figure it out. Show me that there is a problem that needs to be solved, a puzzle. Tell me where to look, but not what to see.
I'm not one of those people that thinks that all kids of all ages should choose what they want to learn all the time. I don't see that as being realistic. But does that have to mean that these children should NOT want to learn? Can't we, as a society, learn to teach curiosity?
"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity."
My response to this is all over the place. I could write for hours. Thank you so much for writing this piece. And, Teacher X, you are right on. I wish there were more of you. Your dissatisfaction with your position shows much about who you are as a person. I don't know if I could survive in organized education. Even para-education, meta-education, and peripheral-education can be so mired in the politics and the "we can't," "we don't have time," "we wish we coulds."
The student is no longer the most important thing. And that scares me. We try, every day, to tell kids that their voices, their creativity, their weirdness, matter, and are important. And so many of them take way too much convincing before they can see that.
Your response leaves me nearly speechless. You covered so much in such a genuine, heartfelt manner. I can feel the sincerity jumping off the computer screen as I read your thought-provoking ideas. No doubt we as educators face a lot of obstacles up ahead, but with pioneers of creativity and authenticity leading our youth into the realm of education that encourages an intrinsic and personal connection to learning, we are headed in the right direction. I look forward to learning with you in the future. Please stay connected via Twitter. You rock, man.
Absolutely spot on! This is the reality of how youth feel and the missing links in education. All parents should read this and understand where your kids are actually coming from....and the need for change in education.
"The grads who are winning today are those who are solving problems, be it for an employer or a personal entrepreneurial venture."
Developing an entrepreneurial mindset has never been more important and is a big missing link in traditional education.
Hey, Debbie. Thanks for taking time to offer such an insightful comment. YOUR comment is "absolutely spot on!" Totally right. Students should be creating and solving problems. I am totally interested in encouraging the "entrepreneurial mindset" in my classroom. Please continue to share your ideas.
Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu)
I don't only know you. I was you. This is why I now help families enable their children to leave school to learn. My story is here http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2014/03/is-boredom-real-epidemic-in-our-schools.html
We need to do better for our children and rebel when we can not.
Thanks for your comment. I checked out the link you provided, and, wow, what a great story. I can't wait to see where your journey takes you and your students next.
You have such a distinct narrative writing style. The only thing more distinguished than that is your commitment to students and promoting their individual voices. Great blog here. It is sure to impact a lot of readers.
You are too kind, my Idaho brother. I have learned so much from so many brilliant educators like you and from a wide diversity of students. Like all hardworking teachers, I aspire to be good enough for Student X. Thank you, Dave, for your incessant forward thinking and inspirational words. Until ISTE '14 in Atlanta...Blessings...
It wasn't until I posted a link to your sad letter on my Facebook page that I recognized how lonely the student in the picture looked. I read the words but didn't pay attention to the picture. The reason that I am stating this fact is because I think it's well connected to your letter. How often do we ask educators only pay attention to those aspects of students that we want to see? It's easy to do so. But the best teachers should be celebrated for really getting to know their students and creating learning opportunities within which students will find it easy to engage. The best teachers don't know who Student X is because they make sure that Student X does not encounter loneliness and boredom in their classrooms.
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/apasseducationalgroupllc
You said it, Andrew. I think the last line of your reply is so true. The good teachers, the passionate teachers, are always working, searching, and creating a rocking learning environment for their students. The fear of a Student X in a corner is motivation/inspiration enough. Thanks for sharing.
Well said! Amazing how not much has changed since I was in school 30 years ago. I can recall feeling those exact "Breakfast Club" sentiments. I can vividly remember the day I dropped out as they told me I was gifted, I had a hyperactive disorder...too little too late I thought as I slammed the door and left...for good I thought...but, No! Here I am 30 years later waking up daily striving to make just one student excited about learning. I wonder sometimes...do they know...do they know that I really do know who they are? And they are my inspiration. Sheri:)
Thanks for your comment. I am willing to bet your students DO know who you are because you certainly sound like a passionate, caring, and driven educator to me. I hope your students are blessed by your presence in the classroom. #RockTheClass
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