While perusing Facebook, I clicked on an Upworthy video people were sharing. It basically had kids telling teachers to understand how to meet their needs. One child needed to walk around the room, another learned better by rocking in his chair, they each were spouting off as if teachers had no idea that children learn in unique ways. Anger bubbled up inside me. I couldn’t fully understand why, so I went outside to work in my yard and contemplate the video and my emotional response to it. After all, I’m not a teacher anymore, and I’ve always been an advocate for multiple intelligences and reaching students through their learning styles. There was a time when I had one of my fourth-grade students walk around the room while she read because it helped her focus.
I realized that there were two main reasons the video upset me. First, I thought it was disrespectful to teachers. I have never met a teacher that didn’t understand that their students learn in unique ways. Teachers want their students to be successful. It’s why they became a teacher in the first place, to make a difference, to teach. They care tremendously when a student fails. I can guarantee when some teachers go bed at night their mind replays the day wondering how they could’ve done better. Teachers do all they can to reach their students. What the video suggests is that it’s easy. All teachers have to do is know what works for every student, and the problem is solved. Just ask each student what their brain needs, meet all of their needs, and everyone will be successful. Well, the problem is so much bigger than that! I work as a substitute teacher in middle and high school. Let me paint a picture of what it can be like in a classroom. The following is not from one specific school or classroom; it’s an amalgam–all things I have witnessed over the years.
The bell rings. There was a fight during lunch, so the students are wound up, loudly talking about what happened and who was involved. Several boys are in the back of the room throwing crumbled papers through the air trying to make a basket. The teacher settles everyone down and begins class. She wants them to read a story in their book and answer comprehension questions. Her goal is for everyone to understand the story so they can discuss it and later create a project based on the story.
Students continue to call out and interrupt her as she’s trying to give the directions. She waits. Then she begins again. Twelve of the twenty-two students open their books and start working. Well, only four of them actually begin to read the other eight are chatting in between paragraphs. Meanwhile, Jessie is just sitting doing nothing. The teacher walks over to see if she can help her. Jessie doesn’t want to do her work. She’s missed several days of school. Although she appears healthy, she says she’s sick. She can’t do it. It’s obvious there are problems at home. The teacher tries to get her started knowing she needs attention. However, there are also twenty-one other students in the room who need her attention.
Billy has asked to get a drink of water about five times since class began. The teacher knows he needs to move. She allows it. Other students ask too because they see Billy leave. Students begin to get loud. Too much talking and not enough reading. The teacher refocuses the group. Twenty minutes into class Sarah announces she doesn’t have a pencil. This is a problem that arises in every class every day. Even though the teacher spent her money on packages of pencils, she’s out. A classmate is kind enough to let Sarah borrow one of hers. Simon has his head down. He’s coughing and coughing. He too has missed many days of school and is far behind on his work. The teacher sits next to him hoping she can get him to read. She listens and realizes he can’t read. Answering the questions is impossible for him. He’s given up. That’s when two boys in the back of the room jump out of their seats and begin chasing each other. One took the other’s phone as a joke. The teacher must intervene. Simon puts his head back down, and Jessie is still sitting staring into space.
Then a police officer enters the room. A student was caught on camera stealing a cell phone out of another student’s backpack at lunch. Chaos ensues. Several of the students begin talking back to the officer in defense of their classmate. The officer calmly asks the student to leave the room. The students call after him telling him it’s illegal to search backpacks. The teacher must get everyone focussed on their work again.
This is the reality of some middle school classrooms. It doesn’t matter if the teacher is top in her field, trying to meet the individual needs of twenty-two students on a daily basis is nearly impossible. And believe me, when I sub, that is the expectation I hold for myself. Most days I come home feeling like a failure. It’s an awful feeling because my goal is to teach, to inspire, to make the students want to learn. It’s our schools that need to change. We need to create a learning environment for students that encourages them to seek knowledge, not the one we have now that encourages them to come up with creative ways to disrupt class, break the rules and receive attention through negative behaviors. Our job is to teach kids to love learning.
The second thing that bothered me about the video is that it has become okay to tell teachers how to do their job assuming that we actually know what they go through in a day. Assuming that they aren’t professionals. I don’t know when this became acceptable, but in my opinion it’s wrong. We are all responsible for the youngest citizens in our community. We all know that there are parents out there who never become involved with their children’s school, who are not able to give their child everything they need, who are abusive. Teachers are on the frontlines. They’re the ones that have devoted their lives to helping these children. We should support them! So, I’m going to list some ways we can do that because I believe if you see a problem it’s better to try to solve it than just rant about it. Go ahead and rant, but then do something! Teachers reading this feel free to comment and add to the list.
1. If you have a child in school, please volunteer. It teaches your child that education is important. It allows you to share in their day. It shows the teacher that you care.
2. If you are retired or have extra time, volunteer! There are a lot of students who just need to know an adult cares about them. It’s amazing what happens when students begin to believe in themselves because someone else does.
3. Drop off supplies at your local school. Pick up pencils, lined paper, art supplies, cap erasers, or little pencil sharpeners on your next visit to the store. Help solve the, “I don’t have a pencil” and, “I don’t have any paper” problem.
4. Check out: DonorsChoose.org
5. Teach your child that teachers are there to help them. When your child complains about their teacher (which they will. Just as they complain about parents in school), try to show them the teacher’s point of view. Developing a good relationship with your child’s teacher shows your child that you are both working together for their success.