|This article was written by Jane Morris — the bestselling author of Teacher Misery: Helicopter Parents, Special Snowflakes & Other B*ullshit and Crap My Students Make.|
It's so complicated. Students are not paying attention because they're bored. They're bored because what's on their phone will always be more entertaining than anything I have to offer them.
And on one hand, I feel that not everything has to be entertaining for you to care about it. I am not here to entertain you. I am here to teach you and you need to do what you're supposed to do sometimes, not just what you want to do. On the other hand, I understand why they're bored because I am also bored. This is not why I became a teacher.
I did not become a teacher to force kids to do meaningless tasks that do not require any critical thinking, creativity or any real skill other than spitting back out exactly what I tell them to spit out. I became a teacher to make kids think deeply about every aspect of life. And to me, there's no better way to do that than through examining literature. But the curriculum and the standards and the testing has really sucked the joy out of it and the job is hard enough without a useless curriculum.
Every year they're paying more attention to whether or not we are following the script. They give us less and less room for creativity. We rarely get to generate our own lessons or choose our own books. And it really feels like they don't trust us. I am feeling more and more like a babysitter. I don't enjoy assigning an essay that I think is a waste of time. I do not like having to train a kid to write an essay that is clearly a waste of their time and then having to completely rip it apart. Neither of us gives a crap about it. And these are not skills that any of these students are going to be able to use, even in college. I majored in English and never once did I have to analyze the structure or literary elements within a text. I’m pretty sure that no other major or job would require that either.
Teachers are passionate people (or we used to be). That's why we went into this profession. I'm sure that most of us had no idea how difficult it would be. We couldn't foresee all the changes in technology and how much more challenging it would make the job. But we truly care about the subjects that we teach, we see the value in them and we want to make it easier for students to appreciate and pass our passion on. If “they” would trust us to create our own lessons and choose our own materials, the flame would be reignited! And when students see that a teacher truly loves and is genuinely interested in what they're teaching, they start to care about it too. Every time I teach a book or lesson that's truly important to me, many kids actually put down their phones on their own accord. They can't help but tune in to what I'm saying because they feel that it's worth paying attention to. They want to know what I am so excited about.
But instead, we're all kind of miserable. We're trapped in this place where so much of what we do is a waste of time and it's not going to get any better until this country — and the powers that be — start to trust their teachers. They must trust that nobody would stay in this job longer than a year or two unless they really cared about the students and the subject matter. But they never ask us what we think. Or if they do ask us what we think, they do absolutely nothing with that information. It's almost like an exercise to make us feel better, to give us the illusion that we're being listened to. But we all know that our opinions and ideas almost never get taken into consideration which makes absolutely no sense. In any other situation, you would ask the person who does the task every day how it can be improved. If I wanted to know how to milk a cow, I wouldn’t ask someone who has studied how to milk a cow but has never actually done it. I would go straight to the source.
It is such a complicated situation in education right now. We are living in a time where life and technology are more exciting than they have ever been. But life and work can't always be thrilling and interesting and completely stimulating and entertaining. And kids do need to learn that in life you just have to do things that don't entertain you because that's part of the deal. A good portion of adult life is doing things you don't want to do in order to have the things you want to have and do the things you want to do some of the time. But students are not adults yet. They shouldn't be doing things all day long that are boring, pointless and completely unrelated to their lives. That's not what education is for. The kids have shut off and we have shut off too. And there is so much anger and resentment because of boredom. It could be so different. It doesn't have to be this way. But until people put a little trust in teachers, it’s only going to get worse.
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