Teacher and coach

I’m not here to entertain you

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.

4 Responses to “I’m not here to entertain you”

  1. bledsoe says:

    That’s interesting about attitudes in Britain. Our educational system here in the States generally recognizes that the students, and not just the teachers, play a role in educational outcomes.

  2. Roger Whitewick says:

    I came across your entry while surfing the web! I agree with you. In Britain, where I teach, the responsibility for all pupil learning rests with the teacher. The inspectorate here make judgements on how well engaged by the teacher the pupils are. This almost suggests that the pupil has no responsibility for their own learning. Now I know that enthusing chidlren is a central purpose of our job but we seem to have lost the idea that pupils also need to put effort if they want to get something out of their time in school. To achieve anything worthwhile we all go through periods of frustration and/or trial and error. Application, perseverance, resilience and effort are all required if we are to learn. This may be one reason why language learning is on the decline in Britain. If it is too hard, people give up.

    I remind my pupils (aged 5-11) that their school years will only be successful if they do something about it. If they want to achieve things in later life they need to put in some effort now. It also works to ask all children what they want to be when they grow up (and I know it will go through endless changes) so that they can see how what they are doing in school will benefit them. Mind you, quite a few pupils here just want to be famous!

  3. bledsoe says:

    I would think college would be quite a jarring transition by itself. I had a number of college professors that I enjoyed a great deal, but I never thought of any of them as entertaining, and it never would have occurred to me to expect them to be so. And even in their classes, I still had to work. The work was sometimes interesting and enjoyable, but it was still work.

  4. browse says:

    I understand why your students have this understanding of the world. In modern America, everything has been painted with entertainment. Our news has been dumbed down and painted with pop culture flash. There’s even a product market explicitly named “edutainment”.
    These days, I think the transition from high school to “the real world” has got to be a much more jarring transition that it was for us. You can forstall that for a few years by going to the right college, I suppose, but that eventual landing has got to be rough.

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