I am really glad that I went on career study at the middle school. Originally I felt like maybe I wanted to try to go somewhere else, like the WHYY building in Philadelphia, but I am glad that I ended up at the middle school because I learned so much about a job that I had always wondered about.
Reflecting on this experience I think teaching is pretty much what I thought it was going to be. I have always thought that teaching could be one of the best jobs in the world or one of the worst depending on how it is done.
On career study I saw that there could be a lot that influences or pressures a person into feeling like they have to teach a certain way. As soon as one steps into the classroom for the first time, it is easy to all of the sudden feel a certain pressure over one’s head that says that one has to make sure that all the material is discussed and covered within the time period of the class and that all the work or the activity is accomplished or else the learners won’t be learning anything and the class will be a failure. I can see how this type of thinking would easily lead someone to begin just teaching from a book and worksheets. Even more dangerous, for the first time I saw how this could melt into being an everyday routine.
The first few days on career study were exhausting. I felt like all I was doing was helping people find pages and passages within books. This was a judgement from just the first day, but no teachers seemed very excited. I was expecting to find some enthusiasm, but everyone seemed a little sleepy. I was still trying to learn and make things exciting, but I was just struck with how boring and routine it felt; not anyone in particular, just everyone and everything. At lunch in the planning room that first day I heard so many conversations about students not being cooperative with what was going on in class that day. I also heard people talk about these experiences like they were personally done against them. Someone one day said “ I have been driving home in silence for the past few days just thinking about it. I have come to terms with it. It is just the end of the year and they are not going to listen. They are just excited to get out.” This was so strange. I guess this is just that teacher amnesia thing. I guess it can be easy to get such a case of teacher amnesia that student’s actions can start to feel like personal jabs? I know that I will be there with a teacher every time they need me there if the lesson is exciting. It just naturally takes a little extra work to pay attention to something that is not presented in an engaging way. Teachers that expect students to be engaged in their class when they never present information in an exciting way are very confusing. It becomes actually physically, mentally, and emotionally impossible to pay attention to something everyday that is just super unengaging. It seems like sometimes some teachers don’t always think to themselves whether or not they would like the lesson if they were a student in their class.
When a lesson is boring, students either fall asleep or try to find their own ways to make class exciting. They are not trying to sabotage a class. The lesson is just not exciting, and sometimes, unexciting lessons can be spotted before they are used in class with some self-reflection. The difficult part is then coming up with lessons that are actually engaging and beneficial.
In the 6th grade social studies class, students’ way of coming up with their own excitement usually either involved making strange noises, trading their shoes, and always beginning class by running around the classroom.
I didn’t mind any of this because it felt completely understandable with what they were being assigned to do in this class (and it seemed many of their classes) and it being the end of the year. They are not being malicious. They just want to play and feel excited. When one simply tries to stop chaos like this in the same way everyday, it automatically creates a teacher vs. student atmosphere in the classroom and a feeling of disconnection between the “teacher” and “student,” further promoting this idea that the teacher is always right, knows everything, and is there to fill their empty student vessels.
I know that students will be there with the teacher if they tell a good story.
It is not that students don’t want to learn. This is actually exactly what they do want many times, even if they don’t fully realize it. Many are looking for something to set them on fire, to sweep their soul, at least someone to spin a good yarn for 45 minutes. They just don’t want to pretend to be learning and engaged in something that is actually boring and therefore they are not getting much or anything from. This is exhausting and terrible. Also, this is kind of crazy. It doesn’t make any sense. What would it all be for? Perhaps to look obedient, compliant in the eyes of the teacher? To make the teacher feel that they are doing a good job? I am not saying that it is not a two way street. Students should always practice persistence and try to find something engaging and exciting in their classes. Persistence is a quality of genius. However, it is just difficult for me to not be a bit disappointed and a little bit critical of teachers who only use worksheets because I have seen first hand and experienced the magic of a classroom that makes a good effort to tell a good story. I saw students last year in AP Euro who claim they do not lIke history be enraptured in the turmoil and excitement of the glorious revolution. I have seen someone who always felt incapable and under confident in math become a master of geometry, fascinated with shapes and angles, excited by the mysterious puzzle of it all because the teacher exhibited passion and weaved each lesson together as a story, sharing her personal experiences with the subject.
It is just a bit sad to sometimes see students dismissed as being “bad students” when really it is just that the lesson is unexciting and the student is getting punished for it.
There were many times where I felt like I didn’t mind if kids were a little wild because that would be how I would be feeling too. The thing I really cared about was whether or not they were really understanding material and if they were excited about it at least a little bit. So many times they are taught in a way that makes finishing the packet the most important thing. Just finding ways to show them that them and their joy and their excitement and their learning are the most important thing really makes a great huge difference.
I thought because I know how powerful good storytelling can be and I had really only seen group work so far in the classes, I thought I might try and interact with the material a little more with them and see what would happen. The subject matter for that day was how Ancient Greece’s government changed over time. I tried to come up with something a little more creative, but many of my ideas seemed more confusing than helpful. The next day’s lesson was about Athens and Sparta, the differences between the two, and why they developed the way they did. I thought I might be able to come up with something a little more creative the next day.
This first day on Greece’s government, I orally told the lesson as a story, asking lots of questions in between my storytelling to help us all think about what would we think or how would we feel if we were at the bottom of society and got our land taken away from us, and what is the significance of owning land, and how crazy it was when everyone at the bottom of society asked for their rights in society in 650 B.C. I noticed people liked this. People also liked if I personally showed excitement about the story myself. If I talked too long without questions or showed any nervousness though, they were gone, which made sense.
We also drew pictures of the evolution of Greece’s government overtime to help us visually make sense of what was happening.
Maybe this lesson was not that creative, but when I told the story well, students were there with me in a way that I had not seen them usually. This just proved to me further that it is often not always just the student who is at fault, who is “being bad,” or is incapable; it is the lesson plan which does not always give them a chance to be engaged and excited.
Some classes that are usually pretty crazy were with me the whole time, engaged and listening.
There is one particular student who I think doesn’t think anyone really cares for him except the teacher with whom I was career studying. He is always seen as “not good at school” and a bad student and a not great kid because he is never engaged in what is going on. One day we were watching a little bit from a film on Ancient Greece and he was in the back of the classroom with his sweatshirt hood over his head and eyes, spinning around on his desk, singing to himself.
He is not a bad learner at all, his classes just don’t seem to allow him to explore and learn in different ways. All of his classes seem to be based on book work and projects without too much direct engagement from the teacher with the material. I think he needs someone to be earnestly engaged in the material themselves for him to have any interest rather than having people always just telling him instructions and page numbers.
During class this day he was listening and with me the whole time. What I was doing was not even super creative, but they do not seem to get interaction like this a ton. Almost just talking directly about the material with them is curious enough.
I think in some way he felt a little bit cared for as well because he knew I cared enough to try and tell a story, and because he knew I wanted to engage with him, that I didn’t just think he was bad. I almost wish I could still be there with all of them to continue learning with them, and try to add a little brightness and excitement to their day.
They all taught me so much.