I remember the first time I walked through a silent school, the quiet hallways, the shut doors. You would think it was testing season, but no, simply a school going about its day. At first I felt in awe; what order, what control, what focus! Yet that night, as I shared my story with my husband, I realized something; schools aren’t mean to be silent. They are filled with kids after all. Quiet sure, but silent, no. Yet here this school was; silent, and all I could think about was; why? So what things are we expecting students to do that we would probably not submit to as adults?
Expect them to work hard all day with few breaks. I could not do the schedule of my 7th graders; five 45 minute classes, then 30 minute lunch, then 3 more classes. In between those classes? 3 minutes to get from one place to the next. And high expectations everywhere they go. We assume that they can just do it because we were subjected to the same, because the classes are all different, because this is not that bad, but as adults we would never be asked to sit focused, giving our best, and problem-solving for such long periods without taking small brain breaks, stretches, or in some other way reigniting our focus. I know we do it so that we can fit everything in, but it still amazes me that we think it is is a good system.
Silent hallways. Or most of the times we force silence when it is not for studying. Of course, there needs to be quiet in the hallways while learning happens, but silent hallways – not needed. Neither are silent lines, silent lockers, or silent lunch rooms. Quiet and respectful can include talking. Once, when I asked why my 5th graders had to be silent while they got ready for lunch, I was told it was in order to speed them up, apparently talking slows them down. On the surface that may be a great reason, we want them to get to lunch sooner. BUT. These kids have just spent how many hours being told when to speak, not being allowed to speak to their friends, and now we tell them they have to be silent for longer? As adults, we speak to our colleagues as we walk down the hallway, in fact, sometimes more loudly than the students. We get to where we need to go just fine, often with a better focus because we got to relax for a minute.
Only go to the bathroom during breaks. I remember telling my students that they had better use their lunch breaks to go to the bathroom because we didn’t have time the rest of the day. Then I got pregnant and the whole idea of planned bathroom breaks imploded. Yes, there are good times to leave the classroom and bad times, and yes, some kids will use the bathroom to get out of class because they are bored, tired, or want to simply get out. So what? To ask students to only go certain times, serves little purpose other than to establish teacher control. Going to the bathroom can be just the brain break a child needs to come back awake. We use it all of the time as adults, why need trust students to do the same?
Do hours of homework. I have long been an opponent of meaningless homework. My severe distaste is based on many things, but one of them is that we have just asked students to put in a full day of hard work with us in the classroom. Now, we are asking them to work even more outside of school. Yes, some jobs require work outside of work hours, hello teaching, but not all, and often those jobs are by choice. However, when we ask students for several hours more of their time, no matter our intentions, after they have gives us their best in class, we are treading on dangerous territory. Why would students want to give us their best in school if we simply ask them to do more after? I expect my students to work hard, use their time well, and get work done with me. Yes, there is sometimes homework, no I am not perfect either, but I do think long and hard before I assign anything.
Be ready to show mastery on the same day. This one took a while for me to realize. You see, it doesn’t matter that you taught the concept at the same time; kids learn at different rates. We know this intimately as adults; what may take our friend a day to understand, may take us a week or more. Nowhere is that more apparent than in college where some students seem to study for weeks, while others breeze through the same material, ready for the test. So why we expect our students to show mastery on the same day I will never understand. Obviously it makes sense from a management perspective; it is hard to manage 113 students on different learning journeys. It is also coming from a completion standpoint; the end of the quarter is the end of the quarter. Yet research upon research shows us just how crazy this notion is, so why do we keep pushing it for it? We need fluid mastery to serve our students best.
What other rules have you encountered? Why do we do this to kids?
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.