Teaching with Passion (in spite of the echinoderms)
In a guest blogpost, a student compares her experience at a public school with her experience at a private school. At the private school, the teacher pulls out all the stops with a beautiful, creative assignment in Classical Mythology. Compared to her English class at the public school, which focused on the taking of a test, the student obviously finds the former more compelling and ideal. Who wouldn’t?
One teacher responded to the post with this comment:
“[Students] don't see that dedicated, engaged, passionate, eager-to-help teachers often hit a dead end and are forced to do what they know is not best for kids due to inane gov regs and requirements.”
I take issue with this statement, not because it doesn’t have a ring of truth to it, but because of the faulty correlation drawn. Teachers do hit dead ends, and sometimes, administration requires that they teach specifically to the test, which is in no way the best thing to do for students. Agreed.
But dead-ends and government regulations/requirements cannot squelch passion and dedication. They might suppress choices and to some degree, restrain originality, but they can’t disrupt my passion. They won’t tarnish my dedication. I simply won’t let them.
Our school required us to teach a certain state test-based exercise every day. I don’t think they could have found more boring, less enticing reading passages. Two pages of hell per day. One of them, our infamous “Lifestyles of the Sea Cucumber” stood out, though.
(For the record, I completely disagree with students being required to read something so out of context in an English class. It was just…jarring.)
Our instructions were to have students: 1) read the passage and 2) answer the questions. Then, we were 3) to “go over” the answers. One inane, required assignment, coming up. If you’ve fallen asleep, wake up.
So, knowing that the passage was the most boring thing ever, and knowing that pretty much every test passage was going to be at least as boring if not more so, our class discussed strategies for reading boring passages BEFORE we tackled this one.
We talked about the voices in our heads. We talked about our favorite actors. We talked about having our favorite actors read this passage to us in our heads. Then, something wonderful happened.
One kid piped up, in this wonderful Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter) accent: “Crikey! Looka this beauty!”
That’s all it took. Steve Irwin read the passage to us, in our heads. I watched students giggle and chortle their way through the whole passage. I watched them gleefully answer the test questions. Then, we checked the answers.
While they certainly didn’t get them all correct, they did quite well because they made it all the way through the darned thing. We enjoyed ourselves, learning a little bit about a sea creature, but learning more about how to read for comprehension, which was the goal.
From then on, our strategy for reading any boring science-type passages was that they be read to us by the Steve Irwin in our heads. Students carried this strategy into the test, thanking me later for it.
When teachers hit that dead end, when we have to work through inane exercises, we must do all we can to retain the passion and dedication. It’s difficult but do-able.
Fight those political, regulation, government policy battles outside of the classroom with all you’ve got.
We need to end the inanity.
However, while we wait for the system to catch up and catch on, inside the classroom, we must fight with creativity--the strongest weapon of passion and dedication.