Friday, May 12, 2017

Understanding Both Sides

Today is the day! After failing time and time again to get something scheduled, my German teacher and I conducted our interview and this blog post will feature her. Prior to the start of this year, I was considering going against what my counselor recommended and dropping my foreign language only three years in. On the first day of school it was going to take a lot to change my mind about German. Resigned, I had already decided that my sophomore eighth block was going to be abysmal.

Similar to my ninth grade Biology teacher (highlighted in my past blog post, “Hooking Students from Day One”), whoever was in charge of German this year would have to make a good impression right away. If not, she would have a lot of catching up to do in order to regain the interest of me and my peers. Freshman year began with my teacher announcing that she spoke five languages and German, the one she was hired to teach, was her worst. Not necessarily the best way to kickoff the year, in my opinion. Without a doubt, I’m sure my current teacher heard the horror stories and she combatted them in the perfect way. Rather than making comparisons to her predecessor she put all the attention on our new situation. It worked too. The key is what she said though.

Through her answers in our interview, it is clear transparency is an aspect of the education system that my teacher highly values. This would explain why she said what she said on day one. As many teachers do, she opened up with her expectations of us along with what students should expect from her/her class. Frau (her classroom moniker) told us that when she was in school she felt slightly overworked. “Being required to take classes that were uninteresting to [her]” (Hawkesworth) was the absolute worst part of that. It’s very different for someone to be stressed out by activities that they enjoy as opposed to ones they don’t. Continuing, she said this didn’t mean core classes should be abolished or anything, but an effort should be made to keep classes engaging. She followed this up by letting us know that she wasn’t going to work us to death. When work was to be assigned we would know it was for a good reason, as she believes busy work is unfair to students (and frankly unnecessary for teachers).

Foreign language is one of those course groups that can get a bad reputation. At my school, they’re known as some of the hardest classes available to students. Difficulty is obviously not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes engagement much more crucial. Another belief Frau strongly holds is that student advocacy is integral to a healthily functioning classroom. “Student advocacy means students working with teachers, the administration, and others to have their voices heard” (Hawkesworth), therefore value must be put in students’ words. Teachers must be open to listening to kids, if student advocacy is to be taken seriously. My German instructor made it abundantly clear from day one that if we had any complaints about class, that we could tell her. This created an open forum for us to share our ideas.

Take, for example, the time our class was assigned a project that required lots of drawing. The majority of our class’ population is not very artistic. Despite that, our rubric demanded ‘well-thought out designs.’ When push came to shove, many of us spent more time worrying about how our art looked instead of the German we were supposed to be learning. One could argue that it was a lack of prioritization on our part. While that is probably partly true, our education system is built on an emphasis of grades. We’ve been conditioned to follow instructions to get the grade, sometimes forgoing the main purpose of the assignment. A couple of my peers and I decided to have a discussion with my teacher about it. She understood our perception of the project and vowed to find a way to avoid this conundrum again. In conjunction, she described her thought process behind adding a visual aspect to the project. The artistic idea was an attempt to appeal to students in the class who might be more skilled in that area. Until our discussion, being angsty teenagers we were just disgruntled. We didn’t understand why she would force an art project on us. On the other side, I’m sure she didn’t understand why there wasn’t much quality work turned in. After we talked, both sides went away feeling satisfied with the explanations they received. Each party also didn’t leave angry because of how civil and genuinely cooperative the discussion was. Since then, there has been no more confusion (and coincidentally no more art-heavy projects).

This brings me back to transparency. Had Frau just shut us down and gave us no explanation other than ‘I’m in charge,’ a large dip in our relationship would have appeared. Why would we trust her after such a response? In my opinion, the most important question a teacher can answer is: why? A simple way to empower students is to pull back the curtain even slightly. There’s no harm in letting us know what’s going on and why. Being given justifications for assignments signals to us that teachers see us as equals, rather than subjects. Without an environment that encourages transparency, it is much harder to keep an open forum for discussion available with students. Teachers that keep students out of the loop generate students that keep teachers out of the loop. That is not beneficial for either side. At the end of the day, and many people have said this many, many times, teachers and students are teammates, not rivals. The end goal is the same for each party. There is no good reason information should be cloaked. In order to enhance true comprehension, educators and their pupils need to be able to be open with one another.

Thank you so much for reading this week’s edition of my blog! I would love to hear any thoughts (in agreement or opposition), any suggestions you have, or any questions you may have. I will continue to update this on Fridays as the year progresses. You can follow me on Twitter @TheSammer88 for live updates from me. The hashtag, #BowTieBoys has been compiling my thoughts and my partners’ thoughts, so be sure to check that out if you want to hear more from us.

Works Cited:

Hawkesworth, Kara. "Interview with Frau." E-mail interview. 4 May 2017.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful message Sam and so true that we must always work to keep the lines of communication open so that we keep our sights on the teaching-learning process (not just the teaching process). I absolutely agree that "teachers and students are teammates, not rivals" and it's our responsibility to create a culture of shared dialogue. Great post!