Saturday, April 11, 2009

Life in a movie

I watched a movie the other day – Lions for Lambs – a film by Robert Redford with three story lines that were connected, but in the beginning you couldn’t tell how. Essentially, the movie was about engagement. It was one of those movies that, after it was over, you wanted to discuss with someone – it left so many ideas swimming around in your head – the movie itself was engaging.

And I started thinking about what passes for education in so many of our classrooms today and the most common complaint I hear from teachers: apathetic students – students who are not engaged, who are physically present but mentally absent without leave. Students who complain about mindless “busy work” assignments that are unrelated to anything they know about [or so they think]. Students who are bored and restless. Teachers who are tired and frustrated. And who can blame either students or teachers? Teachers who feel they are at the mercy of the almighty End of Course tests, High School Assessment Program, and the PASS [replacement for the PACT]. Students served a steady diet of worksheets, “answer the questions at the end of the section,” or “look up the words and write a definition” – and the miracle is that anyone ever does any of that mind-scalding stuff.  Sometimes I wonder – if the tables were turned, and teachers had to complete the homework they assigned, would they?

How is it that we have so many interesting things going on in the world – and all those interesting things are at our fingertips via the Internet – and yet so little of it makes its way into a classroom? 


Julie Lance said...

I am lucky to be student teaching in a classroom with a SmartBoard and projector, so that we are able to incorporate technology in our lessons. However, many teachers do not have access to this type of technology. With the current economy, our classrooms may become even more "stone age" than they are now.

My students live for their cell phones, ipods, and Facebook - and we expect them to be entertained by a worksheet?? I can empathize with these students because I've been in their shoes. I try to remember that when I plan my lessons.

jvaughn said...

I feel that many of the students who are just their in a physical state only are like that due to a lack of accountability on the part of the parents and the school system. Some parents would rather be best friends with their kids rather than mom and dad. Mom and Dad are responsible for making sure that little Johnny or Susie is taking an active role in the classroom and in their educational experience, and without their support teaching is nearly impossible. Many parents let their children have cell phones and internet when they can't afford to pay the water bill, or fall behind on the car payments. At some point, you have to stand up and tell the kids enough is enough, and hopefully they will respect you for it in the end.

I think this contributes to students who think they run the school, and our sole job as educators is to entertain them. Students are in school to learn, and with high stakes PASS testing, more and more teachers are teaching just to pass the test and keep their jobs. Which is sad, but teachers in many cases are not able to bring in more activities and projects due to the sheer apathy of the students that they teach.

The most frustrating thing I see in schools today is that no one can fail. We are required to give at least a 60 for the first 3 out of 4 nine weeks, and we have trained our lazy students to just put forth enough effort to pass and that is not right. Many other students are simply passed along due to a number of factors, none of which are their good grades and passing scores.

We in America, need to get our priorities straight. If we think time's are tough now, wait until we have a generation of poorly educated young people running the country, while the rest of the world has passed us in the educational and business worlds.

Parents need to get serious about their children's educations, school systems need to get serious about holding students accountable for their own educations, and get those students who don't care out of the schools. Most importantly, Teachers need to teach for those few who do care and want to succeed, and come up with new, interesting ways to present information to this digital generation. Teachers need to overcome those things that may hold us back and work to the best of our ability and let the chips fall where they may.

wpatterson said...

I feel a revamped education system is in order. A mix between England's education system and ours would be wonderful. There would be a good mix of personal responsibility mixed with not so much pressure to succeed.

With everything that has been going on in the media, I finally got fed up, ordered The Corridor of Shame, and am showing it to my kids this week during team time. It is high time they understand the depravity of the situation and become vocal NOW. I want them to see that they DO have a voice because what State Congresses around the nation, especially here, truly do affect THEM! We have had healthy dicussions on how to write your governor and to talk with parents and urge the school board to save their teachers. I am truly excited to see what my kids say after we watch the film!

That being said, who can we blame for apathetic students and frustrated teachers, because I have been on both sides and understand all sides of the argument. I don't have an answer, but I hope and pray that my students will walk out of my classroom with a greater sense of personal responsibilty than when they entered it!

Chuck Hall said...

I do not have ready access to computers in my classroom, but I have the students who have computer access print out information and bring it to class as extra credit. The students that do not can research through other means such as a parent interview or an encyclopedia. I really like to issue parent/adult interview assignments because it allows the children to link themselves with adults and understand a completely different perspective. The internet is full of wonderful sources and ideas but sometimes it is difficult to organize it into a creative idea when a classroom is not set up for advanced technology. The internet is but one multipurpose tool that students can get bored with like anything else they do. It is important to diversify the toolbox so that one does not become a "worksheet while I grade papers" teacher. If the internet is used, then it needs to be structured and purposeful with some sort of rubric/assessment that students need to follow throughout the classroom learning time.

Curtis W. Smith said...

In my brief experience as an educator, I have seen that the teachers complaining about lack of engagement are often the teachers who refuse to try new teaching methods for fear of loosing control of the classroom. I had to face this fear of trying new things this past semester during a unit on the Renaissance. After spending time talking to the class about humanism and its effects on Renaissance art, I decided to show the class several notable examples of Renaissance art such as: da Vinci's "The Last Supper" and the "Mona Lisa," Michelangelo's statue of "David" and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and Raphael's "School of Athens." I showed the images one by one on the Promethean board and asked the students to identify humanist characteristics in each piece of art. I was expecting minimal participation, but, man, was I wrong! The students loved looking at the art! All of the sudden, they were sitting up (some leaning forward in their desks) actively trying to identify something in the art. Before I knew it, almost all of the students were raising their hands trying to tell me what they saw. This activity taught me that you may never know what might engage the students unless you try something new.