Tuesday, April 7, 2015

F is NOT for feedback or freedom

Today’s buzzword is “fun.”

I realize that fun may not be a buzzword in the typical sense of edu-speak.  But I’m including it because no one really knows what “fun” means in education.  What students think it means is entirely different from what the teacher thinks it means, but that's what we're tackling in today's episode of the A-Z blog challenge. 

Whenever a teacher complains that her students aren’t motivated or aren’t performing well, he or she is usually told to make his or her lessons “relevant” to the students, or to “make it fun.”  Fun means playing games, using video clips or working some pop culture references into the lesson.  This is why English teachers close read and analyze rap lyrics, math teachers use video game style contests and science teachers show “March of the Penguins” to students.  Lessons are then not as dry and more relatable, but these things aren’t necessarily fun to students.

A student’s idea of fun is coming to class and being allowed to Snapchat with friends during the entire period, or watching a movie without being expected to write anything about it, or “having a party.”  (By the way, “having a party” involves the teacher bringing food and watching the students destroy the classroom.  Sounds fun for a student, right?) 

When I taught a freshman writing class, I had a student who used to ask me every day, “Ms. Marlowe, when are we ever going to have a fun day?” 

After several days in a row of her asking me this, I asked her what her idea of a fun day was.  “You know, where we can just hang out and have a good time.”

“You can do that,” I told her, the first time.  “Just not here.”

“Why not?”

“Would I be just ‘hanging out’ in here with you?” I asked.

“Sure.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound fun to me.”

“Why?”

“Why would I want to sit around with a bunch of teenagers if I wasn’t getting paid to do it?” 
I think that’s a good question.  Teachers may like kids, but let’s be honest, we don’t want to spend our free time with them. 

She didn’t like this answer.  The next day she told me that fun should include movies and food.

“Who would provide the movies and food?”

“You would,” she told me.

“What if I don’t want to?  It still doesn’t sound fun to me.  It sounds expensive and like more work.”  This concept was baffling to her, but she scrambled to add a caveat.

“Well, some of us could bring the food or bring the movie.” 

“Yes, you could, and I suggest you do that with your friends when you go home.” 

“Why don’t you want us to have any fun, Ms. Marlowe?” she whined.

Why?  Because life ain’t fun, kiddo.  Because your boss in the future won’t be interested in entertaining you during work.  Because I’m paid to teach you things you need to know, not be your friend.  Because I have plenty of friends to spend time with, and I don’t count students as friends.  But I gave her a good answer.

“Because I’m an adult, and fun stops after age 25.  Learn that lesson and you can face the future with determination and maybe less depression.  Now go sit down and finish the warmup.”

She muttered angrily under her breath as she sat down, and I had to work hard to keep from giggling to myself.  We spent the entire day working on adverb subordinate clauses. 

Come to think of it, that was a fun day.