“Remember, whatever I ask you to do, I ask myself to do too.”
This is how almost any assignment is handed out in my classes. Not to make the students feel better. Not to make them embrace the assignment more quickly. No, it is really quite simple; I have done the assignment already. I have spent time doing the exact same thing, following the same directions, looked at the assessment and pondered how I would do. Not when I was their age, not when I was in college, not even last year. No the assignment I am asking them to do, I have done in the past few days as well as I prepared.
Why is this important? Because every day we ask students to spend their time, whether in class or after school, doing work for us to show their mastery, to practice their skills, to help them grow. Yet often these assignments are ones that we have never experienced ourselves. Ones that we may have used to much success before. Or ones that we got from an amazing source. Yet, we don’t know what it feels to actually do it. And that creates a problem based on assumptions. We assume we know how much time it will take. We assume we know how hard it is. We assume our directions are clear. We assume the assessment is fair. All of those assumptions add up to nothing good.
I started doing my own assignments a few years back. I didn’t get why my students groaned so much when a new project was handed out. I didn’t get why I would get emails from parents stating how many hours their children had spent. Whether it was book report dioramas, grammar packets, or even just outside reading, I assumed I knew what it was like to do them because I had gone to school once too. On a whim one night, after a particular groan-filled day, I did one of my grammar packets. 9 pages, front to back copied, neatly stapled to teach me all about proper nouns versus common nouns. 45 minutes later, I threw it in the trash. How many times could I write the same answer over and over or be asked the same thing? Yikes. The next day I apologized to my students and we found other ways to do grammar.
So now, I live by a simple rule. Whatever I ask my students to do I have to do as well. So if they have to write an assignment, I write it too. If they have to read outside of school every night, I do too. I discuss my struggles and problems that I encounter hoping they will feel more confident to try something new. I tell them when I stop reading and I recommit in front of them, I tell them when I don’t feel like doing any work but now I have to. My students will not learn from having a perfect teacher, they need someone that they can relate to, even if our years push us apart.
I know that I am not 12 years old and that I have an easier time doing their work. That only cements my resolve to do every assignment. If it takes me 30 minutes to write a great constructed response, then imagine how long it can take for a student?
We cannot keep forcing our ideas on kids without experiencing them ourselves. So commit; whatever your students have to do, make yourself go through it. Trust me, the things you will change will surprise you. Be a learner, just like them, and tell them that you know what it feels like. But don’t just say it, do it and mean it.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.