One of our last days of class together, as they put finishing touches on their "Commencement Addresses", some of us got involved in a conversation about teachers and school. A very honest conversation.
Most of them hate school and can't wait to "get out of here". They hate homework, boring classes, and lectures. When I asked them when was the last time they liked school, they told me elementary school (except for Mr. Cocky Wrestler, who told me he never liked school). Their teachers were nice and the work was easy. According to them, that changes in about fifth grade. In our district, that's the year they begin switching classes and teachers--and evidently, the work gets harder too.
It's the year we begin losing them.
By high school, their school "personalities" are fully formed...
So what did they hate about the high school? Lectures, the same thing happening day after day after day, paper and pencil work all the time, teachers who write on the board all the time with their back to the class, and teachers who don't care.
What would they like to see their school like? More hands on classes where the work makes sense, less lecturing, less "homework", teachers who care.
They want connections with teachers. They want to know their teachers realize that students have lives outside of school. They want teachers who ask about those lives. And, they even want to know about the teacher's life outside of school.
I'm not naive enough to believe that simply asking a student about their day is going to make them love school. Going to their game is not going make them A students or raise our test scores. Attending a concert is not going to make them do their homework. None of that is going to change anything--especially if it only happens one time.
When you ask an elementary teacher what they teach, most say, "I teach ______ graders". When you ask middle school teachers you get a mixed response, but when you ask a high school teacher, 95% of them will say, "I teach ____________ (fill in subject). When did we forget the most important part of our job? In defense of high school teachers everywhere, there is always pressure to cover all the curriculum. To prepare our students for the next class in the spectrum. To make sure they "get it".
My classes make it easier to connect, I know that. In speech, the first three or four speeches are about the students. Actually, since they choose their own topics, all the speeches are really about them. I find out many things about students in listening to those speeches. Creative Writing also gives me opportunities to find out about my students. Their writer's notebooks, their personal narratives, their poetry and stories, all give me a glimpse into who they are.
But I think all teachers at every level can find ways to connect with the kids in their classes. It takes some time. It takes some effort. It takes teaching young adults and not curriculum. It takes knowing that in the end, it will be worth it.