Teach & Serve
No. 4 * August 25, 2015
Related Content from And There Came A Day:
- Teach & Serve No. 3 – “How Does This Affect Our Students?”
- Teach & Serve No. 2 – “Skip to the Good Part”
- Teach & Serve No. 1 – “I am a Teacher”
Think from the Desk
Could we sit through what we make our students sit through day-in-and-day-out? Would we want to?
As teachers – in any given day – we have an awful lot we’d like to accomplish, we have an awful lot were supposed to accomplish and we have an awful lot we don’t get accomplished. This is a simple truth of the job. Some teachers, especially those with curricula they perceive as highly demanding and exacting, feel a certain “ticking of the clock” throughout their school years, as if a fuse is lit or a timer is set on the first day of classes which burns and counts down inexorably to the final days of school leading to AP Exams or final projects or the turning in of portfolios by their students. Some of these pressures are self-imposed and some are imposed from above but they are pressures no matter their origin.
I don’t think reasonable pressures, be they intrinsically or extrinsically applied, are bad things. Many of us do our best work under pressure. That’s an axiom for cause. I also believe that, as adults, we are normally able to balance our pressures fairly effectively and, when we are not, we ought to be able to recognize the signs and regroup.
It’s possible our students aren’t quite as adept at this skill, that they cannot delineate to which pressures in their lives they must respond and when they should let things go and that they cannot as readily put their pressures into perspective as we can.
I also believe that, as teachers faced with the amount of knowledge we’d like to tap into and the amount of skills we’d like to share with our students, we can lose sight of what our students experience, day-in-and-day-out, in our classrooms. Students move from class-to-class and, depending on the schedule in their individual schools, they may be transitioning between classes six or seven times daily.
In any schedule, students’ pace is pretty hectic and what we ask of them in terms of their work days in school and out is pretty significant.
It would do them good if their teachers would think from the desk, not from the teacher desk, but from the student desk.
What does it mean to think from the desk?
- Would we care to walk through a student’s day?
Students shift their energy, their focus, their social group, their tasks-at-hand over-and-over during the course of their school day. The go from one of us to the next, adjusting their expectations of us as we adjust our expectations of them, likely noting inconsistencies in approach between us and our colleagues, inconsistencies in the ways in which they are taught or treated, figuring out what each teacher wants from them as the transition. And this is just the school day. We haven’t begun to touch on commutes and jobs and practices and homework and home life.
Would we care to walk through a student’s day?
Given all that, maybe a better question is could we?
- Would we want to sit through our own class?
Sometimes we’re better prepared than at other times. Sometimes our lessons sing in harmony with our students. Sometimes we’re scrawling on sticky notes preparing our lessons as we run through the halls. Sometimes we have no plan at all. Our lives are just as complex as our students’ lives are and, sometimes, we’re ready to answer the bell as our best selves, engaging our students in excellent lessons, coaching and motivating them at a high level. But, sometimes…
We can’t always be at the tops of our games, but it might do us good to remember that, even the days when we’re not, we’ve still got students sitting in front of us who have to be there.
More-often-than-not, we’d love to sit through our own classes, but do we think about that when we’re planning? Is that question central in our minds?
- Would we/could we do the homework we assign?
There is a significant amount of research in the area of homework and how much or how little students should have. There are prescribed guidelines and purported best practices. There is gray area. Fine. But do we need to assign all that we assign or do we simply get in the habit of pumping out the assignments? How reflective are we in our assigning of homework and, importantly, do we consider how reflective the rest of our students’ teachers are?
- Does what we’re teaching connect to our students’ lives?
We love our subjects or we wouldn’t be teaching them but we must remember that we’re not dealing with classrooms full of students who will major in our subjects or who feel any kind of passion for them. Sure, we’re called to share our passion and to illustrate to our students why we love what we love. That’s a good thing. But making what we love relevant to our students’ lives is equally important. Thinking from the desk, the question “why do I have to know this?” is, perhaps, the most important of all questions. We’d better have better answers than “because it’s on the test.”
- Do we do what we can to make our students feel valued?
If we don’t see this as an overriding concern in our lives as teachers, if we cannot acknowledge that we should value all of the students in the classroom, we’ll never be able to think from the desk because we don’t really care overly much about those who are sitting in it.
There are surely other questions to ask, other issues that are pertinent when thinking from the desk. The very act of reminding ourselves to do this, however, the very act of thinking from the desk is enough to get us started. It is enough to change our focus, ever so slightly, from our ticking clocks – from what we need – to what our students need.