I’m not here to entertain you

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by bledsoe on September 11, 2010

Every once in a while one of my students will suggest that I should make my classes more "interesting" or "fun."  "You should write us a class song, and then you could sing it for us" one girl told me recently (most of my students know I'm in a band).  Or just the generic "Why can't we do more fun stuff in class?"

I'm not at all opposed to my students enjoying my classes.  In fact, I hope they do enjoy them.  One of the reasons I'm a math teacher is because I enjoy math; I think it's really cool and I hope some of my interest and enthusiasm for the subject gets passed on to my students.

And while many of these "Why can't we have more fun in math class" requests are just innocent conversation-starters, I think many of them are inspired by a misconception on the part of my students, one which I desperately wish I could correct: many students think that school should be entertaining and that their teachers should be entertainers.

It's not hard to understand how modern young people could come to this conclusion.  They live in a world in which they are bombarded with entertainment.  TV, music, movies, the internet, mobile phones, video games, the list seems to grow by the hour.  After a while, young people start to get the message: "Oh, I'm supposed to be entertained 24 hours a day!"

While this is perhaps an appealing fantasy, it is a fantasy.  Like many other aspects of life, school is work, and while work can sometimes be enjoyable and fulfilling, it's still work and it's very different from entertainment.  Entertainment, particularly the kind my students are interested in, is generally passive and requires very little effort on their part.  Learning on the other hand, particularly the kind I'm interested in having my students participate in, requires their active engagement and sustained mental effort.  In other words, it requires work, and work is fundamentally different from entertainment.

So while I hope my students enjoy my classes, and while I really do try to make them interesting, my primary concern is that they learn the material.  And in order to do that, they're going to have to work.

Image by Anguskirk on Flickr.

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