Get Schooled

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Thou shalt not bore students. When did that become the 11th commandment?

My friend used to offer a standard retort when his son complained he was bored. "If you're bored, it might be because you're boring."

I marvel that any kid today complains of boredom. Their rooms are multi-media lairs; they have Instagram, Snapchat and, if they're really bored, their mother's Facebook page to peruse. Netflix delivers hot new shows to their laptops; Home delivery brings them hot wings while they watch.

Parents often report their kids are bored in school, usually for one of two reasons; their child is not being challenged because the material is too basic or the teacher delivers lessons in the dullest way possible.

Whenever my children told me a class was too easy and they spent the period daydreaming or looking out the window, I had my own standard response: "If you already know everything being taught and can't bear to listen, you should have no problem getting an A."

As someone who covers a lot of speakers, I understand some are more spellbinding than others. But I usually always find something interesting in any speech I hear.  Would I prefer all my children's teachers be engaging, fascinating and inspiring every minute? Yes. And I wish all my bosses were that way, too. Heck, I wish I could be that way.

But we make a mistake when we expect teachers to be entertainers. And we do our children a disservice when we lead them to believe classroom is theater and they are the audience. Somehow, we have come to a point where we expect teachers to perform rather than students.

I read a wonderful essay on this topic where the writer contends we now believe teachers have to make school fun to hold the attention of a generation that cannot, will not and should not be bored for even a minute.

Teacher Laura Hanby Hudgens writes:

In a workshop I recently attended, teachers were told that kids are so attracted to video games because of the constant feedback - the progress, praise and prizes. We were encouraged to design our instruction more like a video game. How else can we expect to hold their attention? That is a frightening mentality because it has created a generation of consumer learners. Many students don’t see education as a privilege. They see it as a product. And if they don’t like the salesperson, if they aren’t impressed with how it’s packaged, they aren’t buying.

The fact is that it’s rare (except in the movies) that even the most brilliant teacher can motivate an apathetic student to embrace a lifetime of learning. On a really good day, we can spark a child’s interest in the lesson. But in the long term, the desire to learn and improve has to come from within.

The world isn’t a video game. It doesn’t always offer fun and exciting paths through the mazes of life. So unless we change the way we approach education to include an emphasis on student responsibility, and unless we give our students the basic tools they need to accept that responsibility, we really haven’t taught them much at all.



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.