I’ve been feeling a mix of emotions surrounding teaching lately. It hasn’t felt like it’s all I’d cracked it up to be: opening and enriching the minds of the upcoming generations. Instead it’s been hovering over teenagers that would rather watch YouTube, instead of do their classwork, if they’re going to have to stare at a stupid computer screen six hours a day. Surprised with their course of action? Me neither.
My mind and heart have been screaming that this online learning crap isn’t real education. It works for college level, but for a bunch of youths who have yet to see the rest of the world? No. Sure, they’re being taught everything I was taught but for some reason they can’t retain the same information for a week that’s suddenly resurfacing after years and years of disuse. Heck, I read “slope-intercept formula” and blurted “Isn’t that y=mx + b?” *blinks at self* How the hell do I remember this stuff?!
Oh, I know: good teachers and a good learning environment.
I’m sorry but a computer screen isn’t a good teacher and a computer chair isn’t a real learning environment. There’s no social interaction, no team working tasks, no sense of an ability to reach out to others for help. My students confess they need help now and then but don’t know how to ask or admit it when the moment strikes. I’ve basically gone from waiting for them to approach me to just plopping down next to them and asking what they’re working on.
All that builds to my next point: these students are way different than those on the east coast. Yes, I’m working in a Title I school with lots of at-risk individuals, but it’s like an entirely different culture. Teaching methods that worked before don’t work here.
For example, I tried a goal-setting exercise where they had to write down goals ranging from the same day to five years hence. Instead of opening themselves to the exercise, they said things like “Why do we have to do this?” “This is too much work!” “What’s the point? Even if we make plans, stuff will happen, so what’s the point in trying?” I nudged and prodded them to take the exercise seriously while trying to recover from my shock at their reactions. The most mature ones of the class took it seriously while the rest just filled in “I don’t know” or weak answers.
I understand they all have hard lives and hail from the middle of nowhere, but what could have driven them to believe they already know the full potential of their lives? I hail from a society full of dreams and ambitions. Even if things don’t work out, you have to have goals and dreams to keep moving you forward.
I just helped my husband host the last class of the current Financial Peace University session (if you don’t know what that is, go look it up; you’ll thank me later), and I’d just explained to them that life has had a habit of putting the right people in my path. Wednesday night it was a retired (I think) teacher who happens to be from the east coast and noticed the same thing about students over here as well.
“What’s the difference between our education and theirs?” I asked.
“How much they’ve been exposed to,” she said, then went on to describe all sorts of field trips and whatnot, the hands-on learning experiences.
I’ve compiled a list that keeps growing as ideas pop into my head. It includes exposure to simple things like going to a beach or fishing, to shadowing snazzy jobs and watching a meteor shower, and big things like traveling outside the country. I look forward to sharing that list and hopefully showcasing my life to them.
I also need to ask them how they perceive me. Am I smart and successful to them, or just another teacher? Am I a positive example to them or have they not even considered that? I’ve asked them to name famous people they look up to and maybe two of them could readily name someone. Now THAT is shocking.
I remember, in middle school, our English teacher having us do a poster on someone we idolized. Being a huge Superman fan, I picked Christopher Reeve. He’d suffered a broken neck by then but had kept going in life. The rest of my classmates had picked singers and actors.
I think a project like that is far overdue for these kids. They have to start thinking outside themselves. They also need like a field trip a week to catch up on everything they’ve missed.
All this comes together under one word: exposure. All the classes they take, as pointless as they may seem, expose them to things they’d otherwise never have known existed. They might one day spark a curiosity that turns into a passion. I just have to get them curious first. Wish me luck!