We have a saying in the science department here: students lack mental stamina. They are faced with problems, and instead of working together to find an answer, they give up entirely. “This is too hard” and “I don’t know, so I’m not going to do it” are frequent responses when I assign something that requires thought. It takes a lot patience to work with repeat offenders, but I have to strike that perfect balance between gentleness and a firm disposition.
That is not an easy task for me.
A non-negotiable in my class is that students move toward independent learning and thinking. I love to see the struggle on a student’s face as they put their frontal lobe through a workout to solve a problem. The light bulb coming on is one of the most satisfying things that can happen during my day. What really makes me nervous, though, is when the bulb dims and flirts with extinguishing permanently.
I think a flipped class accentuates this problem. I present the class with information, and they are responsible for its consumption. A video to watch, an article to read, maybe some notes to take. To move to deeper thought, I have found (with my students) that building a basis for discussion is preferable to throwing them in headfirst. After that initial stage, we can move into the fun stuff…debates, discussions, videos, writing, creating.
I do not know if there is a term for what I am experiencing now…maybe active reluctance is the best way to put it. Some are choosing not to adequately consume the initial information, and they are having a very hard time making the deeper connections. That turns into frustration and resentment, which has turned out to be a toxic feeling. I found today, right before a quiz, that about half of one of my classes does not feel like I am doing my job, which was a tough blow. Again, a gentle, but firm response was needed.
I still gave the quiz. I understand frustration, and I understand that my class is totally different than every other class they take.
I also understand that our choices have consequences. I did not bring the issue up after the quiz…it would not have helped ebb the frustration. Glancing through the papers, the majority of them looked okay, so I still have to decide how I will address their concerns next week.
I want to be someone’s hero. I am completely comfortable saying that I hope to inspire one person over the course of my career. But, I am realizing more and more that we have a significant responsibility to be both a hero and a villain. One cannot exist without the other. The growth of a hero is spurned by the actions of a villain.
I make choices every day that could upset some learners. But, it is also my responsibility to turn around and make it into a positive learning experience, and that is what I am experiencing now. As we run out of days in the school year, I will continue to push their young minds. That means I will have to make some unpopular decisions. I can take solace in the knowledge that there is a bigger goal in place. One quiz will not make or break a school year, even though it feels like it at the time. I just pray I have enough wisdom to show that to my students.