One of my students— one of my brightest, laziest students— said today how happy he was to be going home tomorrow.
We’ve spent a hundred and six hours in class over the last three weeks. That’s a lot. It’s a full-time job. And in between class hours, the students have had other structured activities to do— dances, talent shows, field days, carnivals, crafts, sports. I have no idea how they get the energy.
So it doesn’t come as a complete surprise when I hear— ten, twenty, thirty times a day— that they are tired. It doesn’t shock me to hear that some of them are excited to go home, even if I expect most of them to have had the times of their young lives (for every “I can’t wait to go home,” I hear three “I’m so sad to be leaving”s on average, sometimes from the same kids).
This particular student cited his reason as “I don’t like going to school.” This stung a bit; as an academic employee, I’ve been doing everything I can to keep this from feeling like forced school, to make class fun and entertaining as well as informative. A slight on our class time feels like a slight on me personally, even if I know it isn’t meant to be.
But the true meaning of his words came when he explained why he hates going to school. Does he hate going to school because he doesn’t like working? Does he hate his time here because, as he put it “that’s a hundred and ten hours I wasn’t at home playing Xbox” (to which I had quipped “then I consider it time well spent”)? Is this typical lazy unmotivated teenage bullshit? No. No, he hates going to school because he’s bored. He hates going to school because “you do all your work in ten minutes and spend the rest of the day sitting around waiting for it to be over.”
Statements like this really make me hate modern education. Here is a brilliant kid— a motivated kid, when he wants to be— a kid with abilities and aspirations. And he hates going to school because of all the work he isn’t doing.
I wanted to tell him it would get better, that in high school or college he would suddenly find his time less wasted, feel less imprisoned, and come to spend more time learning than watching the clock. But I couldn’t. I don’t make a habit of lying to the kids. And I knew as well as anyone could that I’d be lying if I promised him an end to his boredom.
There’s a reason I red more than 150 books a year when I was in high school. It wasn’t an excess of challenges and interest in the classroom. I went to a good school; I took hard classes. Every chance I got, whenever I finished my work before everyone else, I pulled out a book. Teachers liked that. I liked that. It filled the gaps for me.
It doesn’t for him. He’s a talker, and he’s been chastised at least once per day for wandering off-topic, for belligerently questioning work, for distracting classmates, for refusing to participate. Even here he spent more time waiting for his classmates to finish work than he spent working. At his regular school, his teachers regularly shut him up. “After the first few days, they say ‘don’t even put your hand up, we get it, we get it.’” I feel that like a physical wound, like a ten ton weight tied to my left ventricle. That anyone could ask a child to turn himself off…
But hadn’t I? Weren’t there other kids— quieter kids— I was more interested in hearing from? I already knew what the loud ones would say, so I sometimes— perhaps often— bypassed their raised hands for those more rarely raised. Wasn’t that, in its own way, a message? Not just one of egalitarianism and taking turns, but one of dismissal?
No matter how many young minds I witnessed (and hopefully facilitated) blossoming this summer, this is one student I failed. The whole educational system has failed him. And it may be too late to fix it. What he’s learned so far in school is that it’s best to turn his natural curiosity elsewhere. He has no hope that he will be engaged— and I don’t either. He doesn’t even try to engage.
That isn’t his fault. It’s ours.