Category Archives: Observation

Apathy and the American Teenager

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Apathy, the absence (or sometimes suppression) of emotion, passion, or excitement.

Teenagers are an interesting breed. They are drama; raging, fiery balls of hormones. They’re up one minute, down the next. Whoever said that menopause was the most hormonal period of a woman’s life has never been fully acquainted with the mood swings of a teenage girl. Yet, in all of this drama, emotion, and excitement lies a walking contradiction. Though there are exceptions, I have noticed a trend toward the apathetic in my classes.

I work hard to make my lessons interesting, engaging, and fun for my students. It’s a lot of extra work, but it is so much more appealing (to me, anyway) to do something creative and from an interesting point of view than to regurgitate information from a book. Not to mention that when a student engages with the text and has to do something that interacts with the material, they learn more by default. But lately, my students are ASKING for book work! This tells me that there is a fundamental issue here. Why would you want something to be boring? The answer, it seems to me, is that students don’t care. They would rather not be bothered to make the effort.

But this problem goes deeper than that.

Not only do students not care about doing something interesting to engage with the text, they are used to having everything done for them. While speaking with some colleagues about this problem the other day, the matter of concerted cultivation came up. Concerted cultivation can be described as the act on the part of parents of involving their children in so many extra-curricular activities that all other parts of life are overshadowed by these things. For instance, soccer leagues, baseball leagues, figure skating, etc. While extra-curricular activities are important, there needs to be balance in the life of a child. As a teacher, I often hear from parents that students are unable to do their homework because they have some sort of activity after school. Since when did these activities become more important than a child’s education?

I believe that another issue leading to the apathy in American schools is that of discipline. Students come to school with little of it. Parents expect that school is the place where their children should be taught not only how to read, write, and do math, but also where we should teach morality. My question is, what exactly is the parent’s job in this figure?

Now, I’m not a perfect parent. I’m not even close. But I also recognize that it is my job to make sure my children know right from wrong, know how to respect the people around them, and understand that what they do as children can affect the entire rest of their lives. For some reason, though, this is not getting through to kids the way it used to. They have had everything handed to them, have never really had to want for anything, and now want their education handed to them as well.

This is not a blanket statement about every teenager. There are some still engaged, still wanting to learn. But this is an observation I have made about the teenage population at large, and I am not alone in it. There is so much more I could say, but I don’t want to write a pages-long diatribe about the dire state of America’s youth.

What are your thoughts?

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The Longest Lesson

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Classroom management is a struggle for every new teacher. Personally, I think it’s a struggle for almost any teacher, because I think it’s something that we learn more about every year as we progress through our careers. I’m no exception.

Today, I definitely proved that. I managed to turn a 35-40 minute lesson into an hour and a half without even trying hard! For the first time today, I taught a lesson from the social studies textbook on Ancient Greece. It’s a fascinating subject. Well, to me it is. My sixth graders…well, that’s another story. It started out alright. I had a plan: students would read for a paragraph or two, we’d discuss it a bit, and then we would work together filling out the worksheet on the effects that Grecian decisions had on the advancement of the society. That was the plan. What I hadn’t counted on were the derailing questions from inquiring little minds. They wanted to know everything from what a tyrant is to why England doesn’t have a king. Or why did England have more than one queen named Elizabeth. They decided Hitler was a tyrant (which, of course, they’re right about) and that Alexander the Great was the son of Aristotle (I had to set them straight there). While these questions were derailing, though, they were on-topic and were all part of them discovering connections between history and themselves.

Personally, I loved it. But, there is a time limit in which I have to teach, and I didn’t realize it, but at least a third of my class had checked out halfway through. Luckily, my mentoring teacher was taking notes for me and gave me some immediate feedback after the lesson. She told me that choosing a few key people on the outskirts of the room to focus on (body language, social cues) would help me to determine how long my lesson should be. In other words, if kids are getting bored, it’s time to move on and revisit it later. Varying the way I ask questions, or ask them to answer questions will also help. For instance, asking for a raised hand on one question, and then telling students to write answers down, giving them a moment to do so, and then randomly calling on students. This will keep them more engaged (hopefully), because they never know when they will be called upon to answer. Having students discuss the answer to a question with a neighbor is also a good way to engage them. She suggested using popsicle sticks to draw names to answer questions as well, and I like that idea. I may have to find some and try it.

I’m usually fairly good at utilizing the entirety of the classroom, but because of the nature of the lesson today, I had to stay anchored to the overhead (or so I thought). My mentor teacher suggested that having a student take over reading, and circling the room at least once would ensure I have no sleepers.

So, today I learned some very valuable techniques in driving the lesson the way I want it to go and holding to a time limit. It’s amazing the amount of things a person can learn when another is observing her. This afternoon’s class will be another adventure because I’m being observed again, this time by my University Supervisor. Although being observed does make me a little nervous, I welcome it. It’s a great opportunity for me to grow and evolve as a teacher, and I want to be the best I can at what I do. This is just another step on my pathway to getting there.