The more I have lived with his quote, the more I realize Mr. Wiebe was absolutely correct. It made me reflect on my own time as a student. Do you remember yours? Or perhaps your child's? I have never met a kid who is not excited for their very first day of school. They may be nervous, even a bit scared. Perhaps they experience some separation anxiety. However, every child looks forward to starting school - it is a rite of passage, a sign they are growing up - a big kid now.
My mom, like many of yours, took a series of photographs on my first day of kindergarten. I love the picture below. It speaks to the hope of a new chapter in life - the anxious excitement of what could become. That morning I was scared, but I also couldn't wait to get to school. I was ready to grow up. My aunt drove a school bus for our district and my older cousin was already in junior high or high school. I had watched him go to school, play sports, and make friends. I couldn't wait to be like him! Plus, I was going to meet my teacher and learn everything I would need to reach my goals: to become a firefighter who was also a three sport star while touring the world playing guitar in a rock band. Hey, a kid can dream, can't he? My point is, I started school in the same way you did - the same way your children did. Full of hope and excitement.
However, somewhere along the way I lost that excitement. I can even pinpoint when it happened, although I won't out of respect for my teachers and classmates (Don't worry Mrs. Smith, it wasn't kindergarten - I was much older). If I'm being completely honest with you, by the time I was older, that boy who couldn't wait to start learning absolutely hated school - and I doubt I am alone in this. Look at the high school graduation rate in the United States. According to a report last updated in May 2015 from the National Center for Education Statistics, 81% of public high school students in our country graduated on time in 2012. This number is certainly encouraging when you consider only 73% graduated in 2006, but it still means that 19% of our children did not graduate on time or a all.
While there are many reasons for these statistical truths, one underlying factor has to be the fact students stop enjoying school. They simply lose their excitement. This is a problem, isn't it? Of course it is, but to whom does this problem belong: the students? I don't think so. Many students lose their love of learning, and that, my education friends, is on us. Like Glenn Wiebe said at Podstock, "We have to change that." How? Well, I'm not an expert, but I have a few ideas.
I read a quote on Twitter from Jeff Charbonneau: "Relationships then content. Both matter. So does the order." I love this. If you take time to get to know your students and show them they are important to you, it will pay off throughout the year. We often start the year wanting to jump in and teach. We haven't taught all summer and we are excited to impart words of wisdom and understanding to our students. While it is great, perhaps even essential, to be excited about our content - if we fail to build relationships first, students will be less likely to enjoy their time in our classrooms. When your students know you care about their lives, futures, and success, they will work harder for you every time.
Be a human.
Students need to see that we are not infallible, robotic sources of rules and information. Let your class get to know a bit about who you are, what makes you tick, maybe even why you teach. More importantly, let them see your mistakes. Students need to know you are a human being, just like them. When you let them see this, they feel a connection to you and your instruction.
Kids have all kinds of pressure from the world outside school. Make school a safe place for them - a place where life is somewhat normal, where they want to go because it is a location in which they can find adults who are willing to listen and help. Also, our classrooms should be as intellectually safe as they are physically safe. Create a culture of learning where discussions between students or teachers are open ended, challenging, and supportive. Show your students that failure is not the end - but often the beginning. Many students start to hate school because they are not "good" at it - find a way to make them feel success, and they will start to find their excitement all over again.
Keep it real.
As great as connecting with kids and making a safe environment for learning can be, we all know that students can love their teacher but hate school. One huge reason I disliked school was that I became bored. I can remember more than once complaining at home because I would never need to use what I "learned" that day in life. I'm willing to bet you often felt the same way. Rarely do kids run home excited about a worksheet or a required textbook assignment. To me, this is the biggest fix we need to make in order to relight our students' love of learning: create realistic, challenging learning experiences. Find a way to tie your content to life - show them why learning is important. Build fun, engaging, authentic learning experiences and just watch the excitement come back. For inspiration on this, research project-based learning or makerspaces - I've seen first hand the positive impact these innovative teaching styles can make.
Find your passion.
Perhaps some of our students lose their love of learning because we have lost our love of teaching. I know times can often be trying for educators. If you find yourself buying into negativity surrounding you, step back - literally or figuratively. Every once in a while I like to do a quick self-inventory and remind myself exactly what it is I love about teaching. Then I re-devote myself to that passion. When students see you are truly passionate about learning, they can't help but get enthused, too.
The task of lighting a fire in students is not always easy. The task of re-lighting the ashes of a fire gone out is even harder. It will require work, maybe even a change in our mindset. However, nothing worth doing is ever easy and we owe our students the best possible experience we can give. It's on us to make the change and keep our students in love with learning.
What did I miss? How else can we help students stay excited about school from kindergarten to graduation? Comment below to get the conversation going, or connect with me on Twitter (@bmcd25). Thanks, as always, for reading.