A Happier School Makes Sense
Serena Burns, Division 3, College sophomore #ws18e-s3d3

I was one of those kids. The homeschooled loner who left the public school system never to be heard from again. Once I left, others assumed it was because my parents’ “special snowflake” couldn’t adapt to the expectations of “normalcy.” These judgements and assumptions only added to my pain. I was the one who begged my parents to let me try homeschooling. Twice. I felt that the school system was not going to change, so I would leave. I saw my friends suffering from exhaustion, boredom, and personal cruelties, and I could hear the jealousy in their voices when I said my goodbyes. I tried to follow the status quo by returning to public school years later, but I found the same situation in every school that I attended. The teachers were unhappy, uninspired, inexperienced, and unjust. The material was overwhelming, based on memorization, and outdated. The values we learned were based in fear and obedience. A school system such as this is bound to underperform and overwhelm. In order to move forward, education must improve their hiring system, their coursework, and their overarching morals.

To address the teachers, is to recognize the most personal of aspects in the scholastic world. Teachers have the capacity to inspire, motivate, and inform. An excited teacher can change a student’s perspective on a subject matter from horrifying to life-changing. If nothing else, teachers can translate complicated ideas into simpler form so that outside study is a doable process. The biggest issue that I found in any school, was that the teachers were unhappy. In fact, it was a rare instance to attend a class that was full of life and discussion. I can only imagine that these outside attitudes are due to the way they are treated.

Teachers are underpaid. They spend eight hours a day in classrooms lecturing to students who, for the most part, wish they were elsewhere. Then they spend outside time grading papers and building lesson plans. They do not get paid for these extra hours, and the hours they are paid provide just enough income to get by on. Teachers are mistreated. They are given zero freedom as to the content that must be introduced, and they are not given any additional funds to assist with classroom supplies and trips. Finally, teachers are complacent. Many people become teachers because they could not become successful career-people themselves. This means that they are coming into a classroom environment already defeated, and then gaining tenure for a sense of job security. Now, students have little hope for a better teacher with newer ideas to come in and spark their interest.

Unfortunately, the factors such as low pay, disrespect, and complacency lead to resentment in the teachers. Students are unfairly graded, publicly embarrassed, and yelled into silence when their teachers are upset. To compensate, I have seen instructors find satisfaction in their sense of power over a classroom. Raising or not raising of hands could be condemned. Low marks could be announced individually. A bathroom break could result in a detention slip. Unfortunately, these are all instances that I observed naturally and frequently throughout my time in the public school system. The result is that students become afraid to confront their teachers even when they have valid points. They see the teacher as a reflection of the subject matter and they cannot wait to get out of class by the end of the period. The day passes slowly and teachers become the enemy. Resentment therefore builds in the students too.

Now, even if all teachers were picked with more choosiness and even if they were given more flexibility and compensation, the coursework remains an important factor. Every grade level is assigned very specific parameters of content in which to learn each year. Teachers are not given a choice, and there is so much work to be covered, that nothing extra can be added in. This means that memorization is prized and homework exceeds reasonable amounts. I used to wonder if my teachers realized I had homework in every class, because they would give me more than I could do in one night just in their class alone. On top of this frustration, I would notice that the work to be completed was mostly “busy work.” These assignments were time consuming, and generally unhelpful in absorbing the meat of the content we were covering. This overcomplicated the process of learning and made my friends and I feel “dumb.”

In live classes, this feeling of inadequacy was furthered. The teachers called on me (without my raising of hand) and asked for me to regurgitate info read from the textbook the night before. The entire class would turn to me expectantly, and if I did not have the facts off the top of my head, I would be called out for not reading as I was supposed to (even if I had). To make matters worse, I would lose “participation points” for the day because I did not raise my hand. My question is, where does “critical thinking” come in? The school system always talked highly of this skill, and yet their systems in place valued memorization instead.

It is my belief that educational institutions should foster creativity, leadership, and collaboration. These are tools that help working professionals in the real world, and they are the same key points that differentiate us from our competitors around the globe. I read a book titled “Tools of Titans” by Tim Ferriss, that quoted “we cannot out-obedience the competition.” The point being, if we are obedient, do what we’re told, and follow the rules, we are already doing what others are doing. In order to lead a company, improve the world, or (since globalization is at its peak) win a job over someone internationally, we must have individualistic strength. Schools should teach “goal-accomplishing,” as I call it. Memorizing facts is unimportant because in today’s world, information can be searched online in an instant. Rather, let’s teach a student to set a goal, and set up all of the mini-steps with deadlines needed to accomplish that goal, so that by the end they can present what worked and what didn’t. The self-confidence that develops from this style of teaching is in direct comparison to the current methods.

Now, these points may seem are rather harsh and all consuming, but they do come from personal experience as well as the experiences of the students I have encountered. I was homeschooled twice in my life, but I still attended elementary, middle, and high school live. I did attend a few good classes (usually one a year on average), and I did have classes that cut down on the busy work and ill values (usually art classes). This only proves my point further. That rare class was the one I looked forward to all day. That art class had the teacher who asked me what I thought about the subject at hand, and who applauded me for working well with others. That science teacher changed my view of a subject I hated by allowing me to see its real world application in my life. If all classes had this touch of freedom, individuality, and real-life approach, students would not be so miserable and they would be a greater asset to the world.

Students want to learn and they want to feel good about what they are doing. Teachers are that personal touch that can guide them into becoming their best selves outside of the home. Happy teachers transfer that energy into their classrooms, and the more they have to offer from personal experience the better off their students are. Instead of force-feeding the state’s decided curriculum, they can introduce the main concept and then leave an open space for the kids to work with that information and to process it in a way that makes sense for them. Open discussion is a great tool for fostering safe exploration without the stress of embarrassment over memorizing jam-packed content. Lastly, “goal-accomplishing” methods, interactions that communicate respect, and promotion of leadership, collaboration, and creativity will improve the entire school system. It will take the dark cloud away from learning and save misunderstood children from seeking homeschool as a way out of misery.
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