Friday, December 30, 2011

Honest Conversations

My second hour speech class talked a lot. They moved around a lot.  They needed music going all the time.  They demanded my attention--good or bad.  They wanted me to notice them, to talk to them, to like them.  Many of them didn't get those things from other people teachers.

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.


  1. Well, seems just right on to me, Deb. We do teach kids, but subjects. I can't imagine why those who teach "subjects" can't also get to know the students in very real ways. I bet you & I could brainstorm so many ideas of collaboration with the students' lives in history and math and ? I agree that your classes give some advantage, yet there are a myriad of ways. One of my own children's favorite teachers was a biology teacher & they continued to visit him long after graduation. He knew about them more than what they knew about dissection. Great post here, and for the new beginnings when we return.

  2. Wow! Your observation that elementary (and some middle) teachers say they teach kids, while high school (and some middle) teachers say they teach their subject is so profound and so true! Not that there aren't great high school teachers, but the great ones are certainly the connectors -- the ones who know they teach KIDS! Thanks for the reminder of the power of connections!

  3. How do we "break the wall" to reach the kids? I agree, there is no magic wand we can wave to connect with kids. Would you be willing to share some of your conversations with kids on this topic with the BLT?

  4. I would share Tim--but you have Libby and Tanya who are both great at this!

  5. I am so glad those students met you. Every student deserves a teacher like you!

  6. Great post! I was especially interested in what happened in middle school - my world. We need to address the whole kid, not easy to do given all the stuff we need to cover and the time constraints - but sometimes it's just that genuine gesture of interest/concern that gets to them...there's that connection you talked about. Thanks for this post, Deb. And...Happy New Year!!!