Heroes and Villains

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.

4 thoughts on “Heroes and Villains

  1. Brian, I agree with all that you are saying. I experienced the same thing this week with one of my Forensic Science classes. I use LiveBinders as one of my flip tools. But to this group of seniors they don’t check it or see the need to. They have been so indoctrinated by 13 yrs of rows, worksheets, lectures etc that they can’t move away from it. They also told me they want me to do my job and teach them live. However, on a positive note my other senior class has embraced the flip. My chem classes are making progress in it. As we all know each class has their personality and some are very unique and will “fight” you the whole way. Keep up the good work.

  2. Jacky McDouall says:

    You are so right. It is one of the hardest things in teaching, not to give in when exposed to this kind of backlash. If we believe we are doing the right thing to produce successful learners in the end, we must have the strength to stick to our guns and see it through, hoping that eventually the majority will see fruition. May be not this week or even month, may be only when they move on to the next part of their lives. One of the most satisfying things I hear as a teacher is when students (and parents) say “you were right” because I know they have found that place I was directing them to. BTW being a hero and a villain is also part of being a parent. And for that matter any leader. May be not quite at the Dr Jekel and Mr Hyde level, though.

  3. Ken Lewis says:

    Great post. I think it will resonate with any educator who has tried something new and different with their students. To compound the “problem,” many educators are overly critical of themselves and students are quick to cast the blame for their own irresponsibility, so often things seem worse than they are. Sounds like you’re doing a great job in the classroom. Don’t forget who is a trained educator and who is a high school student who has been essentially trained to learn in a certain way. But, as you say, it is important and difficult to both listen to what your students need/want and to do what you know is good for them.

    Thanks for great post,

    Ken Lewis

  4. I am with you on this. I think as teachers we always want to be the “hero”, because we feel rewarded and like our hard work is paying off. But, we do have to “lay the law down” sometimes. One thing that I thought of when I had three students backlash against me last week about the flipped classroom was remind myself that I am the professional educator here and I am doing what I think is best for my students, whether they realize it right now or not. A lot of it, like David mentioned above, is because they have been “indoctrinated” to a certain way of learning, basically passive, get spoon-fed learning, and now we are making them actually work and learn. I think it’s a good thing, and I will take student complaints with a grain of salt to the best of my ability. Good luck next week… you are doing great work for your students!

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