Do You Know Me? The Voice of a Disgruntled Student in a Boring Class
Ever since the posting of this raw and honest letter, Student X has haunted me. Every lesson plan, every project, every transitional minute, every app, and…well, absolutely everything educational speaks to me through this distinctive voice.
Seriously, the last thing I want is to be an intended recipient of this kind of letter. Not for the sake of my ego or any other selfish reasons, but for the sake of all the students who demand more from today’s classrooms. They deserve to be engaged and to have their passions and interests streamlined with the assigned curricula. In fact, they should be empowered so strongly that their learning experiences resemble kick-butt late-night shows, creative think-tanks and meaningful learning centers.
Unless you are a relentless fan of mediocrity, these heartfelt words from Student X will shake you to your teaching core, motivate you to ex-out any negativity and constantly inspire you to bring your “A” game every day.
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.
For more blogs by John, check out:
- Want Student Engagement? Stage It and Set the Hook
- Opportunity: The Heart of Passion-Based Learning
- The Front Porch: A Rockin’ Interactive Structure
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Hey Bored Student,
Do you know me? I'm the teacher who would love to know all about your amazing accomplishments and engage you with all the power in my soul, but I'm the person sitting here trying desperately to figure out how to get you to care enough about pronoun case (just between you and me, please, not you and I) that you'll answer the one question about it on the state standardized test that will decide whether or not I am hired again for next year. And not gonna' lie, it's a little hard, because trying to get you and your compatriots to identify the action in the sentence is like pulling teeth -- you swear to me that you've never even heard the term "verb" before, so I have to go back to second grade material and try to tap dance to keep your attention long enough to explain the difference between subjective and objective case.
I know you've got a smartphone -- I've got one too. I use it to check my email and messages during the thirty second bathroom breaks I get between hallway monitoring and lunch duty. And I would be SO FINE with you using it during class, because Lord knows we don't have enough computers to go around for every kid. But, the last time we got out our phones to use the dictionary on your browser since I don't have enough of those to go around either, I had one kid downloading porn, four playing Clash of Clans, six texting each other -- even though they were sitting at the same table -- and one snapping a picture of the other kids in the classroom and posting it on Instagram with the caption "Lame." (illegal, RapStar -- you can't post pictures of people under the age of 18 without their parents' written permission, but I'm the one who's liable for letting you do so if it happens during my class).
So, we're in this together, Kiddo. Recognize that I recognize you're not happy with your education. Frankly, I'm not either.
Thank you, Justine, for this very honest reply to Student X.
I appreciate this - I truly do - and as a teacher I want to do more. But wanting it and having the time to truly do that for a class of 35 in various subjects with all of the other demands placed on teachers (especially in urban poor schools) becomes a threat to ones sanity. I am a chemistry teacher in a non-lab room who gets called on the carpet everytime a bad smell comes out of the room. This maybe what we want - BUT the owness is not on any one individual like the teacher or the student, its on the system. Until that is fixed guilt trips will do little other than chase away good teachers and disillusion students.
Thank you for your contribution to this on-going discussion.
Dear Student X,
Please hold on a second, I have about 150 other personalized, handwritten letters to read. Each one professing brilliance and individualism. Do you know me? I am your teacher. I've been your teacher for the last few months. I talk about myself and my family on a daily basis, yet you continue to forget MY name. I spend a lot of time coming up with ways to make my instruction more interesting, for EVERYONE. That isn't east because there are so many different personalities and styles. I try to offer you the chance to show your creativity, but most of the time that opportunity is wasted in exchange for the bare minimum needed to complete any assignment or project. Usually your goal is to finish quickly in order to talk to friends or get on your laptop or phone to play games or surf the internet. You're very good at that, you seem to get a lot of practice. What you're not good at is listening and following simple directions. You find them "boring" and not challenging. I find myself repeating them over and over for different students at different times because you are all so individually narcissistic and isolated. You expect individual instruction, catered to your personal needs. That would be great, I agree, but I am only one person and you are many. In my class there are students that need MORE help, actually legally entitled to it. I must spend a larger percentage of my time making sure they are getting what they need. There are also students that are wildly creative, incredibly unmotivated, highly intelligent, as well as supremely depressed. I have students that didn't eat breakfast this morning because they couldn't afford it, while others stopped at Starbucks before class and got their daily mochaccino vente. I have students whose parents love them, students who live in group homes, with grandparents, by themselves, or with one parent or the other. I do my best to get to know all of you and where you are coming from but I am constrained by time, standards, job requirements, my own personal issues, and all of the latest educational reforms and buzzwords which have been heaped on my plate. I teach, I coach, I sponsor a school club, I volunteer at school events. I spend the majority of my time at school or activities related to school. I don't get to see my family a lot for that reason. I teach and continue to teach because I enjoy it, the feeling that I have inspired students to think differently, or achieve more than they thought they could makes me feel like I have been successful. Sadly though, I understand that I can't reach all of you, or my style and personality won't connect with yours. That's ok though. The world isn't perfect. Its a good lesson.
By the way. I've handed out two worksheets this year. One filled with questions so that I could get to know you, the other a practice sheet which I used to gauge how well students knew certain skills. They didn't and I adjusted my teaching accordingly. Sometimes in life we have to perform mundane tasks. Not everything is wild and swag.
Thank you for taking the time to craft such an honest, thorough reply.
Well, yes. As someone who suffered through boring classes in elementary and secondary school and wasn't academically prepared for college and managed to get three degrees and found out that most employers are so short-sighted that they dump anyone w/ a degree, thus missing out on skills and enthusiasm, I can relate to some of what student writes. As per electronics replacing books ... well, what if the electronics break? You'll need books. And carrying heavy books gets you used to carrying heavy loads, which you'll need to do at some point. My folks are all "Isn't that (whatever *that* is at the moment) heavy?" and "No, I'm used to it." Actually that's the only helpful thing to come out of college and grad school . . . otherwise known as "the three worst mistakes of my life." The thing that the bored kid need to do is read a lot of other stuff when not in class--that will keep his intellect enriched and he'll absorb all sorts of useful facts that can be used later. That's what helped me.
This is one student out of thousands who thinks like this. As a very recent student I can agree with some of the things mentioned but the thing is, the students now have little desire to learn. Many don't think school is necessary but then 4 years later they are mad that they are "not prepared". Well suck it up, school is not meant to entertain you. It is not a song and dance. It can be interesting, thought provoking, challenging, and useful. It is what YOU make of it. Sure your teacher may be monotone, but get past that and listen to WHAT they are saying, not HOW. Understand the worksheet is probably meant to help you UNDERSTAND the information you probably didn't listen to during class. Please, do something creative, but understand that many of your counterparts have NO desire to do anything. Creative projects get the following reaction "UGHHHHH" "Why can't we just take a test" "What is the point of this if I know the content". So please, convince the other 30 of your classmates to put in the effort to make something interesting, because the teachers can sure use it. And hey, if you want to do something creative to show your knowledge why don't YOU approach the teacher. There is a 99% chance they will welcome the idea and let you shine. Instead of focusing on how you would "use" your phone in class, why don't you look around the room. Your classmates have no interest in a teacher talking about math, science, history, or English (no matter how entertaining) if there is a phone available to play on. Understand that the rules are there to make sure you learn, but you are too busy moping and waiting for your teacher to start jumping around on the table patting their head and rubbing their stomach to consider that. Do you understand most people work mundane jobs they dislike. It is possible you will go into something you fully enjoy and love doing, but the odds are not in your favor. When you go into that job do you think your employer is going to come in dressed up in a clown costume to entertain you with jokes while you do your job? Absolutely not. So get over it. Your teacher is most likely doing way more in one day that you will do in a month. Your day probably looks like this: Wake up, shower and put clothes on, eat, get on bus, ride bus, go through school and listen to people all day, leave school (maybe play a sport), do a bit of homework eat and have plenty of time to do whatever you like. This is what your teacher does: Wake up: shower, eat, get to school early to prep for the day, pay attention to every student, work on making them feel wanted and special, teach 5+ classes a day, make sure instruction is tailored to the different learning styles of the students, assess their progress and reflect on every lesson so that the next one is better, when classes are over they run a club or coach, then they grade/clean up after the students who didn't pick up after themselves, meet with other teachers, talk with the guidance counselor about that kid that seems depressed, call the parent of the student that is failing and deal with the blame without taking it personally because they are trying their best but the student never does anything, then go home to make dinner, then grade more and plan lessons for the next day and make sure all the other work for department meetings/faculty meetings is set, analyze the standardized testing data for their students, maybe read a chapter of a book as they fall asleep.
Your one teacher has probably 100 students a day. You have 5-6 teachers a day. Why don't YOU tell them who you are. You are so self centered you can't see the pain they are going through watching you stare blankly not knowing how to reach you. Every time they try to approach you, you give them the same disinterested grunt instead of making an effort to show them who you are. In life you need to put yourself out there. People are not going to come to you and cater to you. You are a brat who thinks they know better without having walked in the other person's shoes. I think you will find you couldn't handle it if the opportunity arose. Having walked in both sets, you as a student have it EXTREMELY easy and you don't even know it because you can't see past yourself.
Funny, the same boring methods allowed this student to become literate enough to produce this essay, although I doubt it was actually written by a teen. If allowed to learn "his way", it would be far from what it actually is. Forgot to mention that teens know everything!
While I feel bad that the student isn't enjoying class, the reality is school can't be all fun and games and projects. From the teaching side, there is so much going on that dictates what teachers have to do, from the material they cover to what they have to do to assess it. Much of this is out of their hands. Plus, it is the nature of young people to not like whatever it is that they are doing. For every student who is dying to do projects, there are just as many students who think projects are stupid and would just rather do a worksheet and be done with it. My advice is to practice some empathy, and I'm sure you will see that your teacher is just doing the best that he/she can.
Dear Student X,
I was the curious, creative student who had to learn to fit into a box just to survive. I pushed through school so I could become the kind of teacher that both you and I would value. I did actually accomplish that for several years. I thought I'd teach forever running with those interesting ideas you kids all had. I knew the learning was there. I saw it. It made me so happy to let you start that newsletter on the computer, run a restaurant in the classroom to learn math, and go outside to write poetry on the playground.
Unfortunately, when standardized testing became life or death for teachers, I had to leave you and your wonderful ideas behind.
After 23 years of teaching, I felt like I was torturing you. I tried injecting fun into the over-abundant standards, but I was told I wasn't a team player. You see, other teachers were sharing identical lesson plans and planning their days for the year in August. I tried to get them to see how wildly unique you were all, but I was shunned and like you, I retreated. It killed me to leave you behind, but I had to save myself. There are other teachers still there trying to do their best to save you from what's happening. Often their ideas get lost along the way, or they get in trouble for deviating from the cloned lesson plans. Often, they're just as miserable as you.
Student X, though I'm fighting for you on the outside, you may think you were left behind. You haven't been. I can't say things will change during your schooling career, but know that after you graduate, you have the responsibility of changing things for the next generation. Every person counts. Speak up, learn YOUR way, and spread the word. This infestation into true learning needs to stop. I'm here to help. I hope you will join the fight too. Stay strong.
A special thank you to all who have commented on this blog post. With your heartfelt comments, you have definitely highlighted many topics and issues in education that need to be discussed. By bringing awareness to these issues and working together to create solutions, hopefully, all stake-holders will move towards implementing fair and balanced policies that will ultimately lead all to successful experiences on their own personal learning journeys. Again, thanks to all for continuing to add to this discussion. Please continue to post your thoughts. Blessings...
Thank you for sharing these insightful observations, many of which I feel most definitely hold true for far too many students; you need look no further than the Gallup Polls about student engagement, particularly for high school students. For all who are interested in better meeting students' expectations I recommend looking into the "10 Expectations" work of Elliot Washor and Charlie Mojkowski http://10x.bigpicture.org/ and also the 10 distinguishing elements of the Big Picture Learning Approach. http://www.bigpicture.org/schools/
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