Facts of Life

I’ve really been struggling this week, and I’m okay to admit that. Someday I will be admitting this to my students who I hope in return will admit to me when they are “struggling.”

Lately I have been stuck on “what I want my students to learn.” Do I want them to be educated in British literature? Do I want them to effectively write haikus and sonnets? Do I want them to write research papers over a dead author’s work? Stop.

I’m asking all the wrong questions. Of course these topics are common in the classroom, almost essential in meeting in the standards. But what I really should be asking is “what do my students want to learn?” Well, since I am not yet a teacher, I had to pretend I was the student (except I am still a student).

“Learning is hard to measure. The best
kind of learning—the kind that stays
with you the rest of your life—is
maybe impossible to measure. This is
a source of great frustration to small
minds that are compelled to measure
all and discard all they cannot measure.
But, for teachers it is a fact of life.”
(1992, 114) “Potato Barrels, Animals Traps, Birth Control, and Unicorns”-Janet S Allen.

This quote really struck me. As a learner myself, I do not recall the details of what book I read when and what I learned from a project I did so many years ago. What I mean by this is, the work that I did in High School, was not anything of value to my life. I found no correlation between the material and my life other than “the grade.” I do not want this for my students. I want their work to last, a.k.a “learning.”

I know that the topics my students are interested in are not quote on quote “appropriate” for the classroom. But I have a hard time understanding what is “appropriate” anymore, besides Miley Cyrus…that is inappropriate to the max.

Yet, however inappropriate Miley may be, I guarantee my students would rather write about her than Emerson. It’s a fact of life. But writing about her helps student reflect on their own being, their own behavior, their own identity. If my students are doing this, they are learning. They are developing a sense of being and a habit they will carry with them for the rest of their life. If I can provide this lifelong learning skill to my students, I will have succeeded. And I can struggle with meeting the standards along the way.


4 thoughts on “Facts of Life

  1. I completely see where your struggle is because I am feeling the exact same way. Of course, teaching history is slightly different than teaching English. There is much more freedom in the English classroom than in the history classroom. How do we grasp the interest of our students? What would we have wanted to learn about in our high school classrooms? I am also wondering how we balance the material students are interested in, which is generally inappropriate, and assessment oriented “boring” material.

    I think we should look at “inappropriate material,” or whatever type of material interests our students at that time, and see what we can do with it. The project we assign does not have to be an inappropriate one. Miley’s behavior on stage has certainly become inappropriate, but students writing an essay on WHY we view this behavior as inappropriate, (society’s norms) and what could have caused this clear struggle in seeking attention in Miley.

    We can use the tools our students give us as our teaching material. This way they are able to mold the syllabus and we align it with assessment requirements. Boom!

  2. I agree, Mariah. I don’t think I ever did any work in high school that was relevant in any way to my life outside of school. I wanted to get good grades, so I was motivated to be compliant, but I wouldn’t say that I was doing was learning. While I did have some students write about “inappropriate” things, for the most part students wanted to write about the things that were important to them–which probably won’t be Miley Cyrus for most of them! So this may not be as much of an issue once you’re in the classroom. You might want to look into inquiry-based learning and project-based learning as well as workshop. Those are all structures that place student learning and students’ interests at the center of the curriculum.

  3. I think you are spot on about students preferring to write about Miley over Emerson. Also, I am very glad that you were able to reflect and change to better satisfy the needs of your future students. Personally, I am curious as to what inappropriate things I hear and read from my future students. I think you will find the answer to “What do student want to learn?” by asking the students.

  4. Sometimes I wonder what happens when you say nothing you write about will be deemed inappropriate in a classroom. I’m not sure what exactly people would respond with. I’m sure, like Ellington said, that most kids will write about what’s important to them, but what about those that want to test the boundaries? Is Mary Jane really that inappropriate? While Miley Cyrus’s actions may be something that we see as inappropriate, is it inappropriate to write about her? Or if you liked her ‘twerking?’ This is just something that I sometimes struggle with.

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