Friday, June 6, 2014

Three Things Students Wish Teachers Knew

As the school year winds down, I thought it would be helpful to hear from students in the vein of “Five Things Teachers Wish Parents Knew” and “Three Things Parents Wish Teachers Knew.” I spoke with and emailed over a hundred students in grades kindergarten through 12, enrolled in independent and public schools all over the country, and asked them to think back on the past year and come up with just one thing they wished that their teachers knew. The top three:

1. “Be fair.” Students are particularly attuned to even the slightest appearance of injustice, whether through the care and feeding of a teacher’s pet (“Teachers should be fair to all students and not choose favorites”), or in our sometimes unequal treatment of boys and girls (“Some teachers never yell at the girls, only the boys”).

Teachers know that we are not supposed to have favorites, but we often do, and our students are crystal clear about which students are in our favor and which ones have fallen out. As we struggle to keep track of the needs, wants, strengths and weaknesses of our many students, it is easy to forget that we are the sole teacher at the front of the room, often the sole focus of their attention, and our actions speak louder than our words.

The plea to treat boys and girls equally came up a lot, particularly from the boys I polled. Research shows that “Despite performing as least as well as girls on math tests, and significantly better on science tests, boys are not commensurately graded by their teachers.” Even when boys outperform girls on assessments, teachers still tend to grade girls more generously.

2. “Don’t give so much homework.” I had a feeling homework would pop up in the top three, and here it is, coming in at No. 2. Most students said that while they understand teachers are expected to give homework, and they even admit that homework may hold some academic utility, they ask that their homework be useful and appropriate. Or, as articulated by a New York independent high school student: “I’d like the teachers to know how much homework we have. Like, sometimes I feel like they aren’t communicating enough with the other teachers. I have an early bedtime and chores to do at home. It’s not like I am watching TV and wasting time. I can feel very frustrated. Homework benefits our learning to an extent, but we don’t need as much as we have in order to learn just as much.”

Her middle-school-age sister, who was studying for final exams in another room, answered, “I don’t even have the energy to answer this question right now,” a comment her mother translated as, “She feels the same way.” Way across the country in Oklahoma, a fourth-grade boy agreed, noting that after a long night of homework, “mom and dad feel frustrated and angry and so do I.”

3. “Treat us more like people.” One particularly eloquent and perceptive New York City public middle school student opined: “[Teachers] need to understand what is happening more. Like if a kid’s feeling bad, or being bullied or having a hard time at home, they might do badly on tests. If a teacher was paying attention to the kid, they could be more helpful and not just get mad at them for getting bad grades. This is true of all teachers — nice or mean — because school board-wise the teachers have to care so much about grades that they can’t care about how the kid is feeling. And how the kid is feeling really makes a difference. Treat us more like people.” A New Hampshire public school second grader added to this theme with his own frustration, noting, “I am tired of having [my teacher] talk down to us like we are little kindergarteners who didn’t know anything.”

So there you have it, teachers of America: Be fair, consider your homework assignments carefully and with an eye to utility, and treat students like people. Given the heated and complex debates over curriculum, standards, assessments and leadership in the American education system, these three simple and modest requests seem well within our collective grasp.

A note to the Utah second grader who wanted her teacher to know that “doodling on my whiteboard actually helps me listen:” Yours may not be among the top complaints, but there is evidence to back up your claim. A study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology found that “doodling while working can be beneficial” to cognition. In this study, the participants (half doodling, half not) were asked to listen to a boring telephone message that listed names. The doodling group remembered 29 percent more information on a surprise test of their memory later.

The investigator, Jackie Andrade, hypothesized that doodling might just help maintain an optimal level of awareness when engaged in otherwise boring tasks. For another perspective on whether doodling is a help or a hindrance to concentration, we could look to Bill Gates, Lyndon Johnson or Ralph Waldo Emerson, all accomplished and documented doodlers. )


No comments:





About Me

Your First Visit

  About   About aboutPullout   Archive   Archive archivePullout   Follow   Follow followPullout