May 24, 2010 by readlisaread
“I was a little disappointed, however, to discover that it’s not just enough to put them in front of a computer and give them the opportunity to create, they need guidance and role modeling and examples. They are satisfied to sit in front of the screen and be entertained.”
Did that get your attention? The title was intended to be provocative, but my question is this: Did the title provoke a response of irritation and disagreement? Or did you nod your head, bobble-like, in exasperated agreement, thinking that you have had that same thought several times this past week alone.
So let’s take a closer look at this inflammatory statement by considering the “facts”: Back in the day (when I went to school in the 1970’s, uphill both ways, in the snow) it is certainly true that an observer of my, say, grade 5 class would see tidy children sitting in rows, 30 or more of them, minding the teacher, doing their homework and smiling nicely in class photos. Is that the truth? And if compared to a grade 5 class of today, would we see “worse” behaviour, “poor” ability to pay attention, “disruptive” outbursts….you get the picture. All in a class of 25 or 30, sometimes with a teaching assistant, or other support workers, sometimes with integrated special needs students, and often with computers or SMARTboards or technology of some sort.
On the surface, it appears, and is easy to argue, that Children Today are lazy, lack motivation, are poorly socialized, over-indulged, under-exercised and in general, as Louis CK says, the “crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots“. Some days, when I get home from a day spent with grade 7,8 and 9’s in Middle School, I am inclined to do the bobble-head too. But let’s dig down a little deeper, and compare my Grade 5 class with one of Today.
I chose grade 5, because that is the time I remember still being really happy. I loved school, then, I loved my teachers and my classmates, and when I picture that time, my memories always seem to be backlit by sunshine and chirping birds on the wing. (Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, however, you know it had to rain sometime).
Things I remember from grade 5: spelling tests, practicing the multiplication table, textbooks for math, science, social studies, occasional art classes, going to the library and the gym, and getting a Music Specialist to teach our music classes, for the first time. Socially, if kids were naughty, they got sent to Mr. Rickabee, the Principal. Mr. Rickabee was a very nice man, very kind, and while he did mete out punishment in the form of being sent home, writing lines, losing lunch hour privileges, he did not invoke fear in the hearts of children as did his predecessor Mr. Good. Mr. Good was the last Principal at that school to wield The Strap:
Still bobble heading and thinking THAT was the problem? They did away with Corporal Punishment! That’s when it all started to go wrong…. Well, I’d need a much lengthier post, and many days to write it, if I were to highlight for the reader all the things misguided about that sort of discipline. Returning focus to the Kids, I consider these things to be true:
When I was in grade 5:
- If you got in trouble at school, you got it double at home
- I didn’t know a single kid whose parents were separated, divorced or unmarried.
- Bullying was rife, in all forms, except for cyberbullying, which didn’t exist yet. I do remember get prank phone calls and hang-ups by grade 7, though, so I guess that was as close to Technology-Enhanced Bullying as we had.
- If your parents were called in to the school, you must have screwed up in a spectacular fashion.
- There were no handicapped, mentally challenged, or learning disabled kids. At least, every other kid in the school looked pretty much like me, and was of similar ability.
- Everybody had a lunch, every day, and had appropriate clothes, coats and footwear.
- Prejudice was also rife– of course, that’s just another form of bullying, the sort learned from our parents.
- Some kids cared deeply about their grades, some kids cared not at all, those who wished for top grades and didn’t get them pretended not to care.
Kids in 2010:
- The last time I taught a grade 5 class, more kids were from single parent or blended families than were still with their original mom and dad.
- to get in trouble at school meant……getting a phone call home…..usually left on a machine, more often than not never returned.
- having a parent come into the school meant they were quite likely to argue with the teacher and tell them how to do their job.
- Too many phone calls home reporting on a kid’s poor behaviour will often lead to the kid changing schools, and the former school(s) being maligned and disparaged.
- Campaigns by parents against specific teachers are not uncommon, and occasionally lead to the teacher being transferred.
- Kids come to school with hundreds of dollars worth of electronics and brand name clothing, but often no lunch.
- Some kids still care just as fervently about marks, but the ones who seem not to care, probably really don’t.
All of these facts point me in one direction: The kids I teach are products of the system we created. It’s tempting to point the finger at poor parenting, the decay of the family, too many TV channels and toys, not enough going outside and playing, absence of church and “wholesome” social integration, but I think that’s too easy. I think we have to look at our own actions, too, and think about that human trend of doing the same thing over and over again, yet being surprised to keep achieving the same results.
I had a Principal once, back when I taught elementary school, one whom, by the end of my time there, I had no respect for. I used to think it was because he was an incompetent boob, but now I tend to (also) reflect on the fact that he just didn’t get it. So many times I heard him say “We have to get back to the basics and focus on the three R’s”. He loved spelling tests and multiplication drills and rote and drill and practice, and if you weren’t doing that as a teacher, you were doing it all wrong.
I can look around any of my classes and see kids disengaged, uninterested, turned-off. They want to be plugged in, entertained, engaged. I was a little disappointed, however, to discover that it’s not just enough to put them in front of a computer and give them the opportunity to create, they need guidance and role modeling and examples. They are satisfied to sit in front of the screen and be entertained. But really, is that any different than the kid in the 1975 classroom who drew pictures of cars all day, or the one who just simply stared off into space? My 2010 students might be more disruptive, and they are certainly willing to speak to me, and to each other in my hearing, in ways I would NEVER have addressed a teacher.
And yet, despite the fact that some of them call me by my first name, and make “inappropriate” comments, and joke around in class, and often don’t get work finished on time, and seldom give their BEST effort……in spite of all that, they respect me. They respect me much more than I ever respected my grade 9 English teacher who made me write spelling corrections out 100 times each (guess what, I am still a lousy speller) or my grade 10 Social Studies teacher who once commented to me that my dad seemed to have held lots of different jobs (he had, but that teacher was a pompous ass, and I’ve never met anyone who had a different opinion of him).
Recently in the staff room, in the midst of one of these “Kids are worse than ever” debates, I said: “You know, these are not the same kids we taught 15 or even 10 years ago…..we need to change our practices, engage them on their terms, in ways they understand. It’s not 1980 anymore…..” That little pronouncement was met with either blank stares or undisguised animosity. Meh. I’m pretty sure I’m right, and I like to think that Sir Ken has my back too.