Monday, October 5, 2009

Am I Supposed To Be An Entertainer?

In Let's Make A Deal! from Teacher Food , Mike Rush states,

“Our students are so uninterested in the experiences we give them that they are the most excited when what we give them is time away.” He is talking about how his students want to have “free time.”

I have heard so many teachers tell me during my career that they are not entertainers and they shouldn’t be expected to entertain. These are the same teachers that I’ve observed teaching page by page out of the book and speaking in monotone for the entire class period.

I agree that we shouldn’t be entertainers but I don’t think that it is asking too much for us to be interesting enough to engage the students. I do not want to be the type of teacher that I myself would hate to listen to. If I was in a class like I mentioned above, I would be totally bored and hate the subject. Is this what I want my for my students? Or my own children?

When I walked into a classroom at the beginning of the year, I could “feel” the attitudes of my students flying off of them. If these feelings could talk, these are some of the things I would hear:

· You can’t teach me anything!
· This is so boring!
· Why am I here?
· What a dork (nerd, jerk, add your own words)!
· This is so stupid!
· I don’t even need this course but they put me in this.
· How am I going to last the year with this person!

I like to keep them off balanced and not be anything like they expect. Over the first couple of weeks, I ask their opinions and input. I talk about lessons that I think are interesting and ask for their help in coming up with activities. I also ask them about topics that they are interested in learning about. Then I try to come up with activities to teach these topics and still meet my goals and objectives as well as state standards. If the students have something vested in their learning, I think they will put more energy into learning. Maybe you can’t veer off the required topics given by the administration. Then it is time to lay it out on the line with the students and have them help with the planning of the topics. If students feel they have some control, I don’t hit so much resistance to the work.

Usually by the end of 3 months, my students are energized about learning. They still say the token responses but they don’t have the power behind the words. I usually have students who start talking about new topics and ways we could learn more about them. Some students actually collaborate with each other and try to come up with new approaches. I ask them to write out their proposal so we can look at it together. This helps them think the ideas through as well working to make their thoughts clear enough to communicate. I ask them to write in their proposal what the topic they want to learn more about, give a reason (which could just be that they find it interesting), and some activities that will help the class learn about it. Then when we discuss it as a class, we might brainstorm more activities that the writer did not think about and we add it to the list. I take these activities and choose the ones that I think are appropriate and fine tune them so they are learning skills that I meet my school/class goals and objectives. It is really not hard for me to adapt these lessons to include reading, writing, math, history, science, and art or music. The students actually look for ways for me to incorporate them in the topic because they know that I have to justify teaching them this topic if an administrator walks in. These students feel like they are included in the planning process.

Since the students helped plan these future units, I do not hear as much grumbling about the work they need to do. Sometimes the activities are divided according to different ability levels and different interests. Then they love to share their results with the class as a whole.

My students didn’t ask for much free time because they were doing many things they wanted. I guess this was more like a compromise than making a deal. They understood that we had a job to do but if they could do it in a way that was more interesting to them, it would help them feel better about it. This strategy has really been successful in my classroom.

Original image: 'Soffio di vita' by: Andrea Nissolino

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