Be the change, being a teacher, choices

We Make Kids Hate School

image from icanread

I think it is time I take responsibility for the damage I can do.  Most definitely for the damage I have done to those kids that came to me loving school who  left my room changed.  Those kids that thought they were good at math until my long-winded lectures and explanations confused more than clarified, and in the end they did not know whether to ask for help or just pretend that they got it.  I changed my teaching because of the damage I had done.  I still change my teaching hoping that the students I teach will not leave my room hating school, but loving it instead, seeing it as the ultimate learning challenge to be embraced and celebrated.  Not scorned, survived, or floated through.

So how do we make children hate school so much?  I teach 5th grade and by that time certain subjects have already become hated for most kids.  Math tops the list but social studies comes in a close second.  Most love recess (which so doesn’t count), art, reading (not often writing) and science.  PE is up there and as is music for the girls.  But math and social studies, yikes.  I think of how I used to teach math; lecturing at the students with hardly any time to actually apply.  I thought they could go home and “practice” on their own time.  Often we had so much to get through that questions were not always answered thoroughly and discussion was certainly discouraged; can’t you see we have a lot to do here? Social studies belonged to the textbook, to spice things up we would share the reading aloud of the text and I would try to catch students not paying attention so I could point out that they were not paying attention.  Nothing beats a good old fashioned public embarrassment routine.  By the time I was done with them in 4th grade they knew how to follow along in a textbook and fill out worksheets really well.  Too bad the incredibly fascinating history we had just read about got buried in the disgust.

So what is so different now?  Well, I don’t talk as much.  That’s huge.  In math I prepare just what is important, then showcase it, and we discuss, answer questions, and practice as we go.  Time is given to finish pages in class and I never feel I have to assign it all if need be.  If a students asks one of those questions that are just too hard to miss out on, we explore it and deal with the time constraint later. We pull out manipulatives and whiteboards whenever we can.  We work together when desired and we move around when it makes sense.  I stress that not all concepts are meant to be conquered that day and that the most important thing is growth; no longer rote memorization but application and deeper meaning.  We discuss the similarities between concepts and how they are connected; I hope students see the red thread that runs through our year and why things are presented in this order.

Social studies starts much the same way; I don’t talk as much!  And I no longer fool myself into believing that reading round robin style counts as interaction.  Instead, the massive text book is used as a spring board for discussion.  We find the key concepts and then we set off through projects to explore them.  Students have choice in how they explore and often in what they explore within a topic.  History is brought up to the now as we discuss the parallels we can see between the past and the present.  Student questions are invited and we debate whether we would have proceeded the same way or anything else that needs to be debated.  Student voice is as important as my own and so is their understanding of why we are where we are now in the world, how we got there, and that doesn’t come through rote memorization either.

So while not every kid that leaves my room falls back in love with school – sometimes the damage takes years to undo – I try to put them back on the path.  I take responsibility for my own actions as a teacher and realize the damage I can do.  I go to school every day with the mission for kids to love learning and to show my own curiosity and be a rolemodel for loving school.  I go to school knowing that I can be the difference between love and hate and between further success in school or not.  I hope everyone takes that responsibility.

10 thoughts on “We Make Kids Hate School”

  1. From a parent, currently struggling with a teacher-driven, math dictatorship classroom where students who do not comply with teacher's expectations will be assigned a lunchtime or after school attendance-mandatory detention…..I whole-heartedly thank you.

  2. An important reminder that we have to really think about how what we do in our daily teaching can have impact. There are those magical moments where we feel something great happens. We need to make sure all those other moments are not pulling everything backwards. A very thoughtful post. Thank you.

  3. I think it is vital we realize our effect we have on students and just how much it can effect their future. It is not easy realizing that one must change but it has to be done.I wonder what will happen with my own daughter and her love of learning…

  4. Love reading your reflections, Pernille. Currently, we have our fifth and sixth graders in at lunchtime, so keen are they to complete their iMovies and animations on the theme, "Belonging.". Our dream as teachers- to have them bashing on the door daily to get into their switched-on classrooms!! But it is hard work, I think, to constantly turn old ideas on their head and stay creative, challenging, engaging! Don't we spend our time thinking about what next constantly? One of my favourite and more successful ventures this year has been handing a lot of the teaching over to the students. There has been amazing engagement, modelling by the students themselves and great responses from their peers.Marg

  5. Thank you for the recommendation, I am reading after this.And Marg, that's it isn't it – finding those projects or learning experiences where we are still covering everything that needs to be covered but in a different way to keep the students engaged and excited. It is a challenge but one that many of us, luckily, is up for.

  6. Well said! Teachers need to quit talking so much and give students more opportunity to talk, discuss and interact. Isn't that how we as adults like to learn? Thanks for a great post!

  7. Wow what a thoughtful and insightful post! Thanks for that, I wish I had you as a teacher in the 5th grade. I'm sure the use of technology can go a long way towards this, sort of personalizing the class for students with fun project ideas and making it less about rote memorization and textbooks.

  8. Love it. I've been doing this for years. Not that I'm the greatest teacher around, but I became a teacher wanting to be the "anti-teacher." I think the kids find it refreshing and it makes learning so much more fun!

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