Sunday, January 26, 2014

What students say when they think we're not listening...

Who am I kidding?  I believe they don't think we EVER listen.  And some of the quotes I share later will prove it.

Let me back up and explain a little first.  This morning, I saw "Miss Night" (@happycampergirl on Twitter) share a number of deep thoughts in quick succession.  They caught my eye, so I looked more closely at her tweets and saw what was unfolding around her, in a coffee shop in Canada.

Here was her first tweet on the subject:
"Coffeeshop. Eavedropping on HS students discussing what makes a great teacher. FASCINATING. #edchat"

And then the things they started to say.  Oh my.  Mind = blown.  Turns out these two kids were about 16, probably high school juniors.  No adult was leading the conversation.  They were just sharing what they thought about school, teachers, and the education system in general.  Below, I give their exact words (as recorded by Amy Night), followed at times by my own commentary in italics.

1. "A good teacher is proud of me, FOR me, not proud of me because it makes him look good."

2. "I don't care if a teacher is tough, as long as I know she cares about me."

3. "I want a teacher to say 'Yes, I will help you do great things,' not 'You will do great things because I said so.'"

4. "I want to be at a school where, even a teacher who has never taught me will help me if I ask."

5. "It is not okay for teachers to use us to make themselves look good."

6. "I don't want to be babied. I don't want to be spoon-fed. I want to be CARED about, and ready for the real world."

What's that old line? People don't care how much you know as much as they want to know how much you care?  We've all been there, adults.  We were teens once too.  And we wondered, at times, who cared about our problems, who cared about our feelings, and who cared about our dreams.  Those things haven't changed.

7. "If I want to do something hard, I want my teacher to believe I can do the hard thing, and help me to do it, not tell me I can't."

8. "My teachers should know me well enough to KNOW if my work is my best."

9. "I feel like I deserve more than one chance to master something. It should mean something that I WANT to try again."

10. "Shouldn't individual student success matter more than making the school look good on paper?"

11. "It is not okay for a teacher to give a test with questions about things we have never covered in class. That's an ambush."

So what I'm hearing here is that students really want to do good work.  They want to know what we're expecting, and they want enough chances to get it right.  These kids also seem to be battling something where they go to school, whether it's real or perceived, regarding their successes or failures being credited to (or maybe blamed on) their teachers.

12. "I will work a lot harder for a teacher who cares if she can tell I've been crying."

This just made me sad.  But it's true.  They can be emotional wrecks at this age.  They don't always know how to handle all the stuff going on in their lives.  And often, we adults (parents, teachers, et al.) don't help with all our own drama we push onto them.  Sometimes, it's okay to just stop the school machine and ask what's wrong.

13. "If I get a good mark, I should feel like I LEARNED something, you know? Otherwise I feel like I'm cheating."

14. "Don't tell me something isn't my best if I worked my ass off. It might not be great, but it IS MY BEST. HELP ME."

15. "I wish teachers would let us have more EXPERIENCES without grading. I'd like to just WATCH the play, take it in, not write an essay."

They're questioning something I can't even get some of my own teachers to look inward and question: what do the grades have to do with anything?  Does it tell how much they've learned or how well they jump through our hoops?

16. "My vice principal actually KNOWS me, actually SEES me. It's amazing. It's changing the whole way I see school."

Learn their names.  Even the ones you don't teach.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  Say hello and ask how they're doing, and really mean it.  And stick around to hear the answer.  I think my friend John Docherty is amazing at this.  And not just with the kids.

17. "If I have a friend doing a similar assignment for the same class at another school, why SHOULDN'T we work together?"

18. "They tell us they want us to get along, be respectful to one another, but then they say that helping each other is cheating..."

They come back to this a bit again later.  I have mixed feelings.  I want them to socialize and collaborate their way through their assignments.  I believe in projects over tests and writing over quizzes.  But they need to learn how to be independent learners for some things as well.  Here's one of those places in this set of comments where I would love to have been right there and asked them questions.  After telling them how awesome and wise I thought they were.

19. "I can be good at something that is hard for me. I can love something that is hard for me. Don't discourage me."

Preach it, young person.

20. "It seems like the best teachers teach all the honours & AP classes. Shouldn't the kids who most need help get the best teachers?"

21. "Honours math is 8 kids and the BEST teacher. Remedial math is 30 kids and the newbie. How does this make sense?"

Oh my gosh, yes.  It gets better.

22. "Honestly, the AP kids could teach THEMSELVES, teach EACH OTHER. The kids who struggle NEED A GREAT TEACHER"

23. "It's stupid. They think a great teacher has students with good grades. Shouldn't it be about how kids FEEL in that class?"

24. "We will learn more, and learn better, if we feel GOOD in the class, if we feel like we MATTER, like our lives MATTER."

Yes!  YES YES YES!!! You are important, young people!  Clearly you care about your learning! You care about how your time is being spent! We should love and appreciate that in you!

25. "I can like a teacher who is not my BFF, if he knows how to deliver the material in a way that is INTERESTING."

26. "There are teachers who try to teach the same way to everybody, but how do they not see that that doesn't work?"

Uh oh.  Wisdom bomb....incoming!

27. "If you don't know me, if you don't get to know how I think, how I work, how I feel, how can you POSSIBLY know how to teach me?"

Oh my gosh, I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!

28. "Just because I can't learn the way you are teaching doesn't mean I can't LEARN."

Bracing for impact....

29. "If a teacher keeps teaching the SAME way over and over, even if the student isn't learning, WHO IS THE SLOW LEARNER?"

Damn.  Truth.

30. "I'm a good student. I can get good grades and ace tests without necessarily LEARNING anything. That seems wrong."

31. "You can be good at DOING SCHOOL without necessarily being good at LEARNING or WORKING HARD."

I know.  I've told countless students, teachers, and pretty much anyone who would listen that I was really good at the school game.  I don't remember much that I learned in school, but I know I got good grades.  I was the English major who didn't read any of the books and who still got all As and Bs, and graduated magna cum laude with a 3.7 GPA.  I knew how to "do school."  When I hit real life, I had to start playing a new game, and it's not one I was completely prepared for.

Like I said, when I saw these tweets shooting by in my stream this morning, I knew I had to collect them, harness their power, and share them.  They really just speak for themselves.  These are kids.  They get it.  They want to learn, and they want to be valued.  We can do that, educators.  Stop being a system and start being a human.  I know I'm convicted.