Sunday, December 9, 2012

What's a teacher to do?

I play volleyball with a public school teacher who is the kind of teacher any parent would want for their children. She is a wonderful role model. She is passionate, dedicated, devoted, and always trying to come up with creative ways for her students to learn. For example she recently invited her students take the Myers Briggs test as an interesting way to think about the career they want for their future and she started a Facebook group to connect her alumnae students with current students to discuss college and careers.  In the meantime, all sorts of great literacy skills are being honed i.e. reading, writing, discussing, career readiness.

She also brings her students into the conversation. She shares the assessments they'll need to pass (English Regents) and they discuss the best way to get there. Then they write their own personal learning plan to meet this goal. It's all good. It's all the best of our teachers do.

But there's a problem. One similar to what high school math teacher Crystal Kirch recently shared on her blog when she asked for help (but didn't really want to listen to advice) with her biggest struggle this year:

"My students don't know how to learn.  They don't know how to succeed.  And, it doesn't seem like they care to change any of that. "
My friend's problem was similar in some ways.  She explained, my students just don't want to do the work. She said she has tried everything she can think of and she is frustrated because she just can't seem to motivate them.  

So, I asked her what they want to do. She told me they just want to hang out and talk and chill. And, I thought, well, crap. We don't give teens enough time to do that and hanging out and talking and chilling is an important part of social development. But I digress...

Here's the problem.

Her job is to teach them whether they like it or not even though we know this:
Learning happens when someone wants to learn, not when someone wants to teach. 
-Roger Schank

But, we used to be able to get kids to learn, right?  So what's the problem now?

Seymour Papert gave us insight into the issue more than two decades ago in his book Mindstorms (Page 9).  
I believe that the computer presence will enable us to so modify the learning environment outside the classrooms that much if not all the knowledge schools presently try to teach with such pain and expense and such limited success will be learned, as the child learns to talk, painlessly, successfully, and without organized instruction. This obviously implies that schools as we know them today will have no place in the future. But it is an open question whether they will adapt by transforming themselves into something new or wither away and be replaced.
As Papert predicted in 1980, the time has come when some of our students have figured out they don't need to come to school to learn. They see what is happening in the class as disconnected to what is happening in their world and the carrot of passing the test is no longer enough.

Our students have have changed but for the most part, even our best public schools are only trying to reform an outdated model that needs to be completely transformed.  

But teachers like Ms. Kirch are still stuck in an outdated paradigm frustrated by being, "a hard-working teacher who strives to find ways to reach even the lowest students." 

She explains how her flipped classroom is going for her students this way:

#flipclass in my afternoon Math Analysis Honors classes?  Amazing. Wonderful. Inspiring. Awesome.  

#flipclass in my morning Algebra 1 CP classes?  I'm drained. I'm exhausted. I just want to help them learn. I just want them to ask questions when they need to. I just want them to understand. I just want them to want to learn. I just want them to care.

But as our friend Roger Schank reminds us, "Learning happens when someone wants to learn, not when someone wants to teach."

The irony is that those students teachers like Kirch see as "lowest" are perhaps the ones who have awoken and are more evolved. You see, these kids, know you see them this way and they in turn see what you do as rather irrelevant both because they never asked to learn what you're teaching and they can get the information they care about more effectively without you. Those "honors" students happen to want to learn what you're teaching, so the support and resources provided add some relevance, but we can not fool ourselves that just because we happen to have an offering they are interested in that they are somehow "higher."

But this doesn't solve the problem that Ms. Kirch and my friend are having. They are paid to do a job whether their clients, the students, want it or not.


What's a teacher to do when students have awoken to the fact that they don't need you to learn what they care about and you're not in a position to care about what they want to learn?


If you have ideas please leave a comment below or join us in The Innovative Educator group on Facebook where you can visit this link to see what people are saying.