Earlier this week I got the best compliment that a teacher can get. A student looked up at me and said, “You really like doing this don’t you?” We talked for a bit and he said that my class was his favorite because it was obvious that I wanted to be there. Some others chimed in and the discussion was open. We discussed the differences between having a job just to make money and having a job that we enjoyed. We discussed the differences between teachers who wanted to teach and teachers who wanted the “power rush” of being able to set rules and force the students to comply.
One student in particular stated that he liked my class because I took the time to talk to them and that he was never stressed while sitting in my classroom. I was pleased but also concerned because several agreed with him and talked about their stresses getting through their classes. We talked for several minutes about school and education in general and their reasons for coming to college and wanting a career.
And never for a minute did I think I was off track. I find that students want to talk. They want to be heard. They want someone to listen and respond to their concerns. I don’t always agree with everything they say but I will listen and have an open discussion. Students want more than to have a voice. They want to be seen as humans with full lives, not just a body sitting at a desk on certain days of the week. They want to see me as more than a stern lecturer forcing them to write meaningless papers and fill in endless blanks. They want interaction. They want to be involved in their education outside of technology.
I am all for technology but I have reverted back to writing on the whiteboard for all of my lectures. I have several reasons for this. Number one is that the lights are always on. Sometimes with technology, teachers dim the lights or darken the room and there is no eye contact between teacher and student. This numbs all dialogue. Number two is the pace a whiteboard offers. I have to think through what is really important and choose what gets put on the board (and what gets left off). The slower pace gives the students time to think. When I turn from the board I have immediate eye contact and they have had time to think and the same amount of time to write that I have.
I find that that students who write the notes along with me tend to ask the most questions. They are engaged in the class. The ones who take notes on their computers tend to drift off to the Internet and they don’t remember they are in the classroom until I firmly push the lid of their laptop down on the keyboard. I generally give a little smile and we quickly come to an understanding because while I don’t want anyone to be stressed out in my class, it is my job to help them become the best they can be and I don’t believe that happens while surfing the net.
At the end of the class discussion, on the day I got the compliment, a young lady came up to me and asked if I would answer a question. Several turned to listen. She was completing a project for another class. Her question: “Would you give up your right to vote for any amount of money?”
The students edged closer as she asked to take my picture with a pre-made sign saying “NO.”
I couldn’t help myself and we were off on a huge discussion of our rights and how important it was to vote. Many of them will miss the vote this time around because they will be months shy of voting age but they were more than willing to engage in a discussion of our rights. The talk got loud and I threw in more than a few punches for women voting and never giving up that right.
Suddenly a kid I didn’t know piped up about second amendment rights. I looked at him and said, “Hey, are you in my class?”
He grinned sheepishly and told me that he was in the next class but came on in to listen to the conversation. We all laughed and class was over.