Teachers Please Don’t Bore the Students


Teachers everywhere (including my dear cousin’s husband) may hate me for saying this, but if you are going to teach, don’t bore your students. Do something—do anything—to relate to them. Yes, I know teachers have everything from Disney to the television shows Shameless, Family Guy and Community to compete with, and winning the attention of teens is probably a lot like trying to talk a tired toddler into his winter coat. And while it’s true I’ve never been a teacher, I have spent a whole lot of time in and out of the classroom at Cole’s school. Watching is not the same as doing, but guess what? Everyone has an opinion—including me.

If I were a teacher (cue music), I would find a way to engage my students. Yes, I would. A math teacher at Cole’s high school learned every student’s name while she was a substitute and promised the kids that while she was short in stature, she could and would flip them. She was fun; she had their attention in and out of the classroom. Thankfully, she earned a full time job at our school. I know teachers have tests to teach, administrators to please and parents breathing down their necks, and they have my sympathy. YES, TEACHING IS A HARD, UNDERPAID, JOB. I get it. Really. What I don’t get is sucking all the FUN out of learning. I’m sorry, some teachers just aren’t fun (and worse, they don’t care), so they hand out ridiculous assignments and justify their boring classes by making rules and complaining about the kids, parents, lack of money and how unappreciated they are, each time they walk into the classroom.

Over the past few weeks I have observed a class of 11th graders struggle through music history. The assignments lacked imagination, the lectures (according to all 14 students) were boring, the homework overwhelming. The syllabus, from my point of view, did not reflect any understanding of the students required to take the course. Worse, none of these 11th graders were inspired to want to attend Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, a cycle of four epic operas that runs over at least as many nights. Ok, this may not be Mr. Giraffe’s (our nickname for this teacher) fault; few of us will ever sit through an opera of this magnitude. But still, if they had wanted to go before his class, he now has ruined it for them. Forever. Would it have killed Mr. Giraffe to introduce his class to Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème, by telling them the modern rock musical Rent was based on it? Doesn’t it just make sense to relate the subject being taught to the learner? Of-course it does! And it’s fun for teacher and student.

The popular mindset holds that there is value in dealing with the occasional bad teacher or the bad boss, and I agree…the value is to walk away from these kinds of people. Really fast. Unfortunately, kids often don’t feel empowered to change their circumstances and feel stuck. I might stick with a difficult client because of a payout, while kids are just stuck—and worse, many adults believe it’s good for them. In this adults opinion, it sucks. Maybe, I’m not grown up enough to believe otherwise, or maybe I just had too many bad teachers growing up. Have I told you about Mrs. Bassett (I love writing her REAL NAME!), who smashed my pot in art class—the pot I was rather proud of, but was obviously not good enough for her? We usually talk about all the good teachers who made us what we are today; well, the bad ones contribute too. Mrs. Bassett crushed my pot on purpose, and along with it, my dream to become a potter. (Not really. I never wanted to be a potter, and instead gave the next project, hooking a rug, to our maid to do. Lesson learned: How to delegate.)

I challenged Cole to create one positive takeaway from the class. He chose to make a guitar. It was a good guitar. In fact, he told me that he might set up on a Chicago street corner and play for coins. I agreed he should go for it; his sign could read, Thank you, Mr. Giraffe, for teaching me everything I know about music.

Homemade guitar from Katybeth on Vimeo.

Yep, I am one of those annoying parents who is almost always on my kid’s side. It works for us.

Personal to teacher cousin-in-law if you read this: You don’t know nothing about birthing babies and are not entitled to an opinion until the cord is cut. Life is not fair. ♥

14 thoughts on “Teachers Please Don’t Bore the Students

  1. Headline grabber since I am a retired teacher. It is challenging to keep your students attention and interest. I taught high school Science for 20 years and saw lots of changes. I enjoyed teaching, and still keep in contact with some of my students. I think it helped that I really liked my students and was excited by my subject. Not every student walked away loving science but I hope most walked away being a little more interested in our world. I did my best to keep it interesting and fun. Teaching is hard work, but it also very rewarding.

    • Funny, just today I was talking to a friend about two really good science teachers that I had…we leaned a lot more than the periodic table. The classes were fun and while I was a nothing mucher student I enjoyed the classes. Sounds like you were a wonderful teacher. Your students were lucky!

  2. Wow, you had a teacher smash your pot! Worth growing up to be a blogger just to name her over and over again. There are of-course good and bad teachers, and I agree it’s hard work for little pay, but if it is your chosen profession engaging kids especially in the upper grades is so important. If you can find pleasure and fun in your job maybe it’s time to find a different job both for your sake and your student sake. No harm in saying, I’ve had enough, time to look at doing something else. Love Cole’s homemade guitar

    • I know, right? I think educational reform should allow teachers to take a paid year off after a certain number of years to rejuvenate and decide if teaching is something they want to come back too or if they want to use the year to try something new. I can’t imagine being burned out and trying to teach kids…bad combination.

  3. I’m not sure why the classroom has to entertaining. I’m paid to make sure my students learn the material, I hope it’s not pure drudgery, but I’m not overly invested in classroom fun or engaging my students or their parents. Trying to go too much beyond what you are paid to do leads to resentment, and burn out.

  4. “…the value is to walk away from these kinds of people. Really fast. Unfortunately, kids often don’t feel empowered to change their circumstances and feel stuck.”

    Unfortunately kids typically don’t have the power to change their circumstances, at least in a school environment. Parents, however have the ability, and the responsibility, to advocate for their child(ren). I am always amazed and disappointed in the parents who refuse to do just that.

    As to Larry’s comment, not engaging your students is a sure fire recipe for them not learning in your class. Beyond regurgitating enough information to get out of your class, I’m willing to bet they walk away having “learned” very little. If you teach because it’s what you get paid to do, then you have set your bar very low. Teaching is a calling, and you leave a permanent mark on your students. Whether that mark is a scar is completely up to you. If you are not interested in the long-term affect of your involvement in their life, perhaps you are in the wrong vocation.

    Mrs. Bassett – what can I say. I still have the clay box I made in her class. She tried very hard to keep me from graduating early, over a grade in ceramics. I won, however, because I don’t succumb easily to other people’s allusion of power and authority.

    All of this comes from a mom of a 17 year-old who has been homeschooled since third grade and is thriving in college classes.

    Life can be unfair, but you alone have the power to change your circumstances. The people who run the world are the ones who show up.

  5. You’ve hit a nerve on this one, Kb! I agree with you 100% — how dare that teacher smash your pot?! Aren’t teachers supposed to be encouraging their students — how is crushing your work “encouraging”? It’s like English teachers who bleed with their red pens all over your term papers (yes, I had more than my share — it’s a wonder I try to write at all, though maybe that’s the best revenge, heehee!)
    Music History could be such an interesting class — so sorry Cole had to endure the worst of it. No wonder kids give up on education, when they’re forced to put up with teachers who’d rather be anywhere but in the classroom!

    • It’s hard isn’t it? In high school you have to take a step back–which I did…but it trigger my own feelings about bad teachers and how they can spoil an experience. Everyone has a bad day, but my feelings is Mr. Giraffe was ready to prove something at our Waldorf school that had nothing to do with providing the kids a positive Music History experience. For goodness sakes, there are 14 kids in this class…most plugged in to some sort of music, well behaved, well fed, sort of well rested….it should not have been that hard. Oh…well time to move on…Red pens…cringe worthy.

    • You did know about my pot—-You told me not to worry about it and apply the old idiom, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” to pot smashing Bassett.

  6. it’s never too late to earn a teaching degree & certification & experience education from the inside.

    • Once upon a time…I thought long and hard about it, but it wasn’t my calling. I also seriously considered homeschooling Cole before we found Waldorf. I do believe we need to reform education—heavily involve teachers in the process, get rid of testing, and leave the slogan, “Leave no child behind” behind. Being passionate and engaging would be a lot easier if you had some say in how you taught and managed your subject. Waldorf teachers have almost full control over the curriculum–so really they have no excuse. I don’t think most teachers walk through the door saying, “I am going to be boring,” I do believe many enter the field for the wrong reasons—it’s not all about summer vacation, is it? 😀 Education is a mess. This is isn’t anyone fault the current system was build for the Industrial age–times have changed. I’m not sure more money for a broken system is the answer—I think we need major reform. I hope to be a part of that reform some how. Standing ovation for all the hardworking, passionate teachers—many who are friends.

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