by: Alex Stubenbort
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”-Winston Churchill
It has become an unfortunate cultural norm to accept the fact that school is NOT a child’s favorite place to be. In fact, in many ways teachers have reciprocated this feeling by counting down the days until summer break and saying all but “Good riddance” when it arrives. However, the vast majority of connected educators understand that if your favorite part of the school year is the day the kids leave, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, teachers are called to cherish the time spent with students and think critically about some of the common student complaints in an attempt to make school and the education system at large a better place for those we serve.
Therefore, I curated a list of common student gripes. What should we takeaway from these complaints? Are they mere byproducts of teenage angst, or is there substance beneath the surface? Let’s assume the latter. Let’s pull back the layers of the following five frustrations to discover what they can tell us about the culture and context of our buildings, our colleagues, and ourselves:
Admittedly, this particular complaint gets my goat more often than not. To think that there are places in the world where children and families risk life and limb to receive an education, it aggravates me to hear students proclaim that “School sucks!” in the midst of being beneficiaries of a free, quasi-world-class education. However, I would be doing a disservice to my profession and, more importantly, to the children I serve by allowing this initial guttural reaction to win.
Instead, I begin by asking myself 3 fundamental questions:
- What does this complaint tell me about the child?
- What does this complaint tell me about myself?
- What does this complaint tell me about the school?
By doing so, the answer becomes clear. Typically, a student thinks “school sucks” when they don’t feel safe -OR- they don’t feel represented culturally. Either way, to shrug off such implications would be irresponsible at best and down right dangerous at worst. Instead, give the student a voice via empathy coupled with empowering their passions. Invite students to be present at SAEC and faculty meetings, and create allotted time in these meetings to allow students to voice their concerns unobstructed by eye rolls and judgmental murmurs. Although some student concerns may fall outside of the realm of possible change, the mere act of listening intently can go a long way in assuaging frustration.
Before I begin deciphering this common complaint, allow me to first explain that I do not believe that every learning objective in school must have a direct correlation with a moment in the learner’s future. As a graduate from a liberal arts college, I believe in the importance and merit of a well-rounded education and understand the unavoidable fact that offering a child a well-rounded education will ultimately lead to pockets of information learned that will be inconsequential in their future endeavors.
However, teachers do themselves a disservice to ignore the fact that typically a student asks this question due to sincere ignorance and not out of malicious intent. Often times teachers are so pressed for time that they move on to the next learning objective without ever taking the time to engage and intrigue students with the “Why?”. If a number of your students are asking this question, consider what you could do differently to bring your content into relevancy for the here and now by daring your students to find the information’s inherent importance in their lives today. Their answers might just surprise you.
3) “This is SOOOO boring!”
It is not a student’s job to sit still and listen. In the day and age we live in, students are used to a la carte EVERYTHING! From TV to fast food, social media to music, kids are used to a world of choice. To enter a room where things are the teacher’s way or the highway flies directly in the face of what the On-Demand Generation is used to and what they can reasonably expect in the future. Futhermore, to argue that the real world doesn’t care what they think is ignorantly misinformed and dillusionally out of touch.
More than ever before, the real world cares about what the consumer thinks! Businesses tailor advertisements to align with our social media behavior; they bend over backwards to “make things right” with irate customers that voice their frustrations on Twitter; and they offer their employees 20% of their work week to work on their PERSONAL passions on company time! The world is no longer a machine where people are merely its cogs. If this is the model of your classroom, when your students say, “This is boring,” heed the warning and adapt.
Technology is evolving at an ever-increasing speed. As such, technology has the unique ability to constantly level the playing field. Once you have mastered a piece of technology within the classroom; a newer, better, and more efficient technology is being released. Therefore, if a student declares that the way in which you are doing something is “stupid”, repress your ego and ask yourself, “What do they know that I don’t?” It is quite possible that the student is privy to information that is on the cutting edge. Tap into this knowledge of the new to revolutionize the way in which your class works.
For example, my students regularly submit apps for approval from the school district. It is not a prerequisite that I understand how to use these apps in order for them to be utilized and meaningful in my class. In fact, some of the most amazing artifacts produced within my class this year utilized apps and technology that I am completely unaware how to operate. Allowing students to make their learning “unstupid” is a sure fire way to increase engagement!
Naturally, students have their favorite teachers, and I am not suggesting that teachers get into the unhealthy habit of comparing their popularity to others. Instead, I suggest that teachers remove their ego and pride from the scenario and ask themselves one very basic question: What is that teacher doing that I am not? The typical answer to this question (if we’re honest) is that we don’t know. Seek the teacher out and pick their brain. Ask them about how their classroom operates and request a classroom observation. What I tend to find when observing my peers is that I find tricks of the trade that are easily replicable. These little changes can make all the difference to win over some of your toughest critics.