When did being bored in class deserve disciplinary action?

After reading the Teacher's at Risk blog post from a few minutes a go, I don't know what makes me angrier at this scenario.

This teacher quotes an article from the Mississauga News:

“A grade six student at St. Sebastian Elementary School has been censored by his principal after writing a speech about being bored in class…”My message is to you,” he (the student) writes in his speech, “let nobody steal your joy by keeping you bored. Find a way out. To be happy is your purpose in life.”

Oh, my goodness.

#1 The student was asked to write a speech. The student wrote a speech.

The student did that and a quite moving one at that! Now, I disagree that one's purpose in life is to just “be happy,” however, if the classroom is devoid of happiness and the excitement of learning, something is fundamentally wrong!

#2 Students have a right to their opinion.

If I'm bored, I'm bored. I have a student that stays bored in one of my classes much of the time because he says, “Mrs. Vicki, its not you, but I don't really like computers.” He'd rather be doing something else. Now, I really work hard to make it interesting for him.

That is why this 8 week assessment is what I'm calling my Passion Driven Learning project. (It is still in progress, so don't rush to judge the wikis!) The students have selected a “major” and are looking at the computer hardware and software for their “major.” This does fascinate him! So, I have given him something to be passionate about in a subject that doesn't bear inherent interest for him.

This being said. If my student is bored and says he's bored, as long as he doesn't “cuss me out” or harm another student… that's his opinion and he has a right to it. (The article says that administration determined that it was disrespectful to a teacher.)

This is not a place we censure students for having opinions unlike ours! This is a place where we encourage opinions and free speech. (Of course, the school is a private Catholic school and I too am at a private school, but this is a little extreme.)

As with all stories, there are certainly two sides to this one and we are only getting one. We also, haven't read the speech. I do believe it is important that teachers are treated with respect and my students do prepend my name with “Mrs.” However, on the surface, such thinking as represented in this article is wrong.

Don't think this is isolated

This is the thinking that tells teachers that they cannot blog and express their opinions about work or about personal items because either can be construed as unprofessional. (See the Pennsylvania Teachers Association blogging ethics guidelines.)

What is this place that no longer allows us to disagree with our employer or the place where we go to school?

Yes, I have conservative values but I also believe in the value of democracy. And although I do not take the Lord's name in vain, I believe in the free choice that allows humans to decide whether they wish to or not. (I do however, retain the right to enforce our school's rules on no profanity in my room but if a student wished to write a speech about how I was wrong that would be OK.) That is democracy and I believe that it is a God-given right for humans to be able to determine their own beliefs and express them.

Somehow this fits with a system that doesn't allow students to blog or wiki or podcast. Big Brother is watching and he doesn't want you to say anything that makes him look bad.

Now, do not think that all schools are like this. There are many progressive, amazing schools like mine and others who offer the best education has to offer in meaningful, exciting ways for students. But there seem to be so many more who let fear drive their curriculum. (See my last post about the wiki project that is shut down because of a fear of wikis!)

Faithfulness in a world gone crazy

I read a quote from Mother Teresa tonight. She said,

“I do not pray for success. I pray for faithfulness.”

In teaching, I honestly don't think we arrive to a point of “success” I was listening to blogging expert Anne Davis talk about a project she did with fifth graders earlier in the year “That didn't work” and it hit me — as long as I teach humans and remain human, there will be wins and losses.

I need faithfulness for honestly, as a teacher, I may have successful moments but I don't know that I will ever be 100% successful.

Education is messy and the World is wrinkled

Education is messy — it is about learning and no one comes into a subject knowing it all, not even the teacher. The world is also not flat, it is wrinkled and high speed internet access is irrelevant if you filter out everything that you try to access.

(I credit Lisa Durff for saying “the world is wrinkled” in our 2/14/07 Wow2 show)

And in this messy classroom with wrinkled internet access, it is important that students be allowed to have a voice.

For truly, one's opinion is their last, sacred frontier and it belongs truly to the one who houses the grey sky of their own mind. We must harness that power of opinion to teach and never seek to carbon copy ourselves. That, my friend, is brainwashing and it has no place in a democracy. I have to wonder if in many places, not just this one school, if we are not seeing the roots of censorship spring.

The Death of a Future

Beware letting wrong take root
though today it be a tiny weed,
Tomorrow it may overshadow all
and kill the future seed.

(Yes, I write poetry too.)

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Durff February 26, 2007 - 1:54 am

Well Amen! I am surprised how often students are surprised that I allow them to disagree with me. If they write the 5 paragraph essay with the topic and three RDFs – well that is the assignment, isn’t it. We can’t teach critical analysis in a homogeneous world.

audrey February 26, 2007 - 4:16 am

I agree with you that the student didn’t deserve disciplinary action, however, I don’t agree that students are required to be interested in everything that they must learn. One of the things that I find most distressing about American education is the insidious way in which student pleasure at their instruction has become our goal. Of course, it’s great when learning is golden and students are happy to be doing it, but self discipline in the face of things that must be done but are not enjoyable is a worthwhile goal as well. If you want to be good at something, you must undertake that which is not enjoyable. A musician may love playing, and still take no pleasure in playing scales. A writer may love to write and have no interest at all in grammar or punctuation, other than to use it as a tool of expression. I believe that we prepare our students best when we prepare them for every state of being, not an endless parade of passion and engagement. From my point of view, that is a foolish attempt to give them something that doesn’t actually exist… all goodness and no ambivalence. Better to teach them that they will enjoy and have passion, but also have ambivalence. They will learn with joy and sometimes be tired of learning. And all of it is okay. A student who believes that it is the teacher’s job to insure that he or she is not bored is a brat that we’ve created and someone who will require life to reinstruct him otherwise.

Simon February 26, 2007 - 6:24 am

My apologies for the lateness of my response… I tried earlier but I must confess that I something i hit made me loose what i’d typed. Don’t thing I’m N-Gen, just a baby-bust babe.

Now excuse my immediate response, it may be somewhat knee-jerk but as I read, and agree whole heartly with you thoughts I’d like to point out what appears obvious to us but may have never occurred to the Principal of that school; scale. I think had they never said anything then the speech would have been read to an audience of 32, perhaps the school of let’s say a 1000 kids, who would have talked, and text about it for what, the rest of the week.
But now by making such a bold and some would say rash reaction it has caught the attention of the blogging community. And now here I in New Zealand, other side of the world thinking about a slightly more measured response.

Karyn Romeis February 26, 2007 - 9:34 am

I’m not fully au fait with the situation, but it seems to me that there should be some investigation as to why the student was bored, and whether his boredom was purely his own or a common feature of his class/school/tutor group.

Simply saying to a kid “You are not allowed to be bored and you are certainly not allowed to say that you are bored,” is going to result in mutiny.

Anonymous February 26, 2007 - 3:45 pm

I am happy to see teachers being open and aware of this problem. I am 29 yaers old. When I was I guess around 10 I was labeled with ADD. This was a little bit before it was so common place. I wonder if my teachers had considered the possibility that I was bored maybe I could have caught more direction growing up and less discipline.

Anonymous February 26, 2007 - 5:37 pm

do teachers grade on the content of the paper or the topic? i don’t think it’s fair to grade based on the topic a student picks because everyone’s opinions different.

Vicki A. Davis February 26, 2007 - 1:21 pm

Lisa Durff – Yes, they should be allowed to agree and disagree, such is the sign of a good teacher.

Audrey — I do agree that no student is going to be interested in everything. Pleasure is not our goal, education is. However, the style of teacher preach, students listen is outdated and doesn’t work. All of the research shows that an active learner learns more than a passive learner. So, I guess in the process of making the student an active learner, we do try to engage them. We have to know that education is work, work is work, and life is work, however, every day of my life whether at work, in a classroom, or just living life — I work hard to have a positive attitude — even when I too am bored.

Simon — The blogosphere wields more power than many think. It is the power of connection and conversation!

Karyn — You and I agree – we have a right to our opinion, that is the bottom line. While I do not agree with the rationale of the student (some topics aren’t exciting and life isn’t just about being happy) I do believe that the student has a right to disagree with me. A student has a right to be bored even if it hurts my feelings. It happens all the time. All I can do is work harder to make my subject more engaging. For when they are engaged, they learn.

Jim Gates February 26, 2007 - 11:42 pm

Right – his purpose isn’t to be happy but he’s a sixth grade boy and that’s his focus right now. Soon it will be girls.

Our schools are ighting to keep kids in school instead of having them enroll in cyberschools, etc. But, who could blame this boy if he decides after this episode that this school, too, is way too restrictive and petty? Who could blame him and his parents for choosing another alternative? Let’s face it, he isn’t going to walk away from this incident with any kind of deep respect for the system, is he?

s March 2, 2007 - 4:18 am

Powerfully said Vicki. You are a rare breed of delightfully conservative and open-minded. It is a refreshing mixture.

Thanks for your work and thought-provoking posts.


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