I was sitting in on a science class observing a student teacher deliver a lesson. The lesson was on the types of heat transfer and the teacher in training began his lesson by talking about his kitchen and house. It was a good hook, content that the students could relate to and the teacher could rewind upon in order to concretize terms and concepts that he would eventually explain. He wanted his students to begin to understand different types of heat transfer. He walked them through how the stovetop conducts heat, how the oven blows hot air to heat things, and how microwaves send invisible waves. The students, well most of them, were engaged. For most of the 12-year-olds, learning about the kitchen and how things work inside of it was new and relatable to them. Every kid loves hot food and is interested when they hear about the different ways macaroni becomes piping hot. But a few of them have been cooking their own “dinners” since the age of 8 or 9. For a few of them, the heat transfer of an oven wasn’t anything impressive when they considered that their ovens were more often used for heating their homes than cooking a warm meal. The student teacher continued with his lesson. “So next, how does your home get heated?” One of the students who belonged to that group of few who, in this instance, most likely had been boiling hot dogs for breakfast or lunch since a child, chimed in. Of course, he didn’t put his hand up. Actually, I didn’t even think he was paying attention to the lesson. He was at the back scrolling through his phone with his head down. Nevertheless, he yelled out “money”.
“What? I said how do you heat your house?” the student teacher repeated. The kid answered, “Yeah, money…if you don’t have money you ain’t gonna have no heat”. Instead of highlighting the truth behind his response and perhaps leading the group discussion back to the science of heat, the student teacher dismissed the student as being oppositional, told him that maybe if he paid attention he wouldn’t have such a silly response and jumped back into his guiding talk about heat transfer. And just like that, another one bit the dust.
It is essentially the process of convection that heats a home but it does take money to keep that current running. So the kid was right in his own sense of what learning and knowledge meant. In fact, this kid is usually right when he decides to participate. He may not be right when it comes to the direct context of the implied topic of discussion, but his comments – which tend to come out of nowhere – are very rarely off course. In fact, they make a lot of sense to me as an adult. Ask a group of adults “how you heat up a home”, and the word “money” wouldn’t seem that strange to hear. But within the confines of a school where one “authority figure” is commander of “truth”, kids like Davon are wrong. But real truth be told, we are both wrong.
This student teacher and this student haven’t had the best of relationships since. He has increasingly become more “oppositional” and rarely does the work asked. The student teacher came in a few classes later with a demonstration involving a lighter and a balloon filled with water. While all the students were on the edge of their seats, this one student had his head down. When asked why he wasn’t paying attention, he said, “this is boring, who cares if the balloon pops or not”. Even I wanted to watch the demonstration, but young fella had no interest. Nothing that was about to happen intrigued him. He is 12 years old and couldn’t care less about school.
Admittedly, I don’t know what this student is interested in but I do know that he is not interested in school, as it currently stands. This is because the school, as it currently stands, is too limited for students like him to find a passion and truly see the benefit of education. But, I know what might help.
If we brought in actual experts in professional careers and took trips to various work environments, we would have these students more interested and invested in what school could provide for their future. I know nothing about NASA and the extent that I can teach students about space extends no further than what a textbook or my life experiences can provide me. Thus, I understand if a student who had dreams of becoming an astronaut at age 3 no longer cares about space by the time he or she reaches 7th grade. Perhaps if there were more valuable and frequent opportunities for students to spend time with adults, who are experts, adults who have careers in actual things beyond teaching, perhaps then we could engage those students who seem to not care about school and subsequently re-foster a value in education. This would take time, networks of influence, and money. But, these seem like things that public education has, or can at least, lobby for.
But back to this student, whom I can only assume, knows no one that went to school beyond high school. To him, school is functionless. School can be functional and transformative for him if we changed what school is. Teachers are often referred to as “the soldiers on the ground”. Teachers all have the capacity to connect with their students and subsequently uncover their interests, however vague they may be. But not many teachers can take those interests and provide opportunities for student growth in those particular areas. Let me put it this way: I am a teacher. I have expertise in the art of teaching and perhaps a personal expertise in a few things beyond that. If a student came up to me and said he wanted to play football in university, I can undoubtedly help him get there – I got a scholarship for football and played in university. That area is within my realm of expertise. If a student tells me she wants to be an architect, I am stuck in terms of guidance and engagement beyond my modest attempts that would equate to researching how one becomes an architect. If an actual architect worked with students who were interested in architecture or an actual business owner was given the opportunity to hold monthly visits by students who were interested in entrepreneurship then maybe we would have a lot more students interested and engaged in school. And we would have a lot more students who currently see no purpose for school become interested in school. Of course “school” would look very different. But I could surmise that we would also have a lot more students who are on IEPs for giftedness rather than IEPs for “behavior”.
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