A group of teachers was talking the other day about the pros and cons of prep periods at the end of the day. There was talk about having to be “on” for 4 periods and how exhausting that was. There was some talk about whether it was harder to teach kids at the end of the day. And then there was a comment, “If we feel wiped after 4 hours in a row of school, imagine how the kids feel.” It reminded me of an article I had read where a teacher had followed two kids for two days of high school and done everything the kids had done. The full article is here: https://goo.gl/utB7iA.
The author, a high school teacher herself, made some interesting discoveries:
- Sitting all day long is boring and exhausting. The author was astounded at how tiring it was to just sit. As teachers we forget that we stand, sit, kneel, and walk around as we teach. Mostly the kids sit. I know that when I go to an all-day PD session, even if I get to change workshops every hour, it can be exhausting.
- She found that for 90% of the day students were passively receiving information or regurgitating information: listening to the teacher or other students present, or writing a test.
- She felt like she was a bit of a nuisance. By the end of the day the teacher felt that she’d been nagged at all day long. Even though she personally never got “in trouble” she felt that all day long students were being told to line up, be quiet, get to work, listen carefully and so on. As well, she heard a fair amount of “sarcasm and snark”. Interestingly she reflected that as a teacher she probably did the same.
It might be worth thinking about what a day in the life of a student at your school would be like. I know as a teacher, I was usually engaged. But I was organizing my time, and I tended to love my job. The author of the article reflected that after her experience she wished she had done things in her classroom differently. Here are some things that might help to make the time fly at school for kids:
- Keep teacher talking to a minimum. I usually suggest no more than 7 minutes. It seems short but it is doable. Plus, you will feel guilty at 15 minutes which is probably the maximum. Also, think about student presentations, particularly in the upper grades. What about having students present to small groups? What about a few presentations over a shorter period of time? What about kids doing their presentation to a smaller group and video taping it through an ipad so that you can watch it later since you won’t get to them all?
- Collaboration and working in groups. When I go to a conference I like to hear others’ opinions. I also find that when I talk about what I am hearing I consolidate it more readily. Humans are social by nature. Sometimes we spend so much time telling kids to be quiet; maybe it would be easier, and more engaging, to give them rich problems to discuss. If I had to be quiet all day long, and work on my own, I think I’d be antsy and tempted to talk (or text) to my friend.
- Teachers can incorporate a stretch, a quick dance video, a run around the school, some jumping jacks just to get blood moving if they find that there is a pervasive sleepiness in the classroom. Although we worry about using up “content” time, perhaps 50 minutes of good work is better than 60 minutes of so-so work.
- Are the tasks you give the kids engaging? Worksheets are not. Challenges and problems are engaging. Try doing the activities you give the kids. Is it engaging? Is it fun? Did you have to really think to do it? Did you have a real sense of accomplishment when it was done?
- We all know that a little bit of humour goes a long way. However, I do know that in my practice, particularly by the end of the day, or when I was frustrated, or my head hurt, or my shoes pinched, I could be sarcastic and nagging. The reality is that most kids are not misbehaving yet they probably heard my response to the few. And I was just one teacher of 5 or 6 they had in a day. Or, in the days when I taught primary, I was the only teacher they had for the day-even when I was having a bad day.
I hope, at our school, that the author would have a more positive experience walking in the shoes of our students. But, still I wonder. Is there more we could be doing? Do we need to rethink the type of furniture we have in classrooms? Do we need to build in more movement? Are we reflecting enough on the activities we know are engaging and trying to replicate those? I don’t believe that going to school should be the equivalent of a birthday party. But, it should be engaging. Maybe you should ask your students: does time fly while you are at school? When I am engaged, that is what happens. Usually time flies for me at school and especially when I’m teaching. The time should fly for both us and the kids. We are in charge of the time.