Trust me, they all learning something…

One of my pet peeves in my role as a teacher comes from the nonchalant mouths of other teachers. More specifically, my most difficult times in the school building do not come from that student who just can’t sit still but from the teacher that brushes off the students who don’t do their work by contesting that, “he’ll eventually figure out that he should have taken school more seriously.” Seriously? How serious were you taking school when you were twelve? It is easy to make such a statement when you mesh with a system that operates within your frame of cultural reference and caters to your style of intelligence. It is easy to say, “he isn’t learning” when you come from an experience that placed you in a position that accommodated the way you naturally answered questions, completed homework, and took tests. But again, how serious did you take school when you were twelve? Most of us learned by default; we gradually became accustomed to the practices of both learning and schooling and passively followed along, year after year. For most who have become teachers, even when we didn’t understand why we had to learn something as a child, we still did the work. That’s why we are in the position we are in today. By default, we automatically assume that every child should be the same. And when they are not – we assume they are not learning. Well, for starters, that’s wrong. Trust me, these kids are all learning; what it is depends on you.


The issue with thinking that when a student is not doing work it means that they are not learning is relinquishing one’s understanding of humanity. You think that because a student isn’t doing his assigned tasks that he is not learning something about individual autonomy, negotiation, power, and consequences? All those things subconsciously (and for some of them, very consciously) trickle into their minds as they sit there talking to friends instead of filling out math sheets or completing history assignments. It is our task to suture their understanding of what school should provide with our understanding of what school is for.


I will be the first to admit that, as teachers, we all get somewhat lazy from time to time. When a student isn’t learning the way we want them to learn, we either force them to produce something or “give up” on them for the time being, whether it is for 20 minutes, that period, or that day. But make no mistake, when we do this – they are learning something, something about human nature, interactions with adults, and schooling in general. They are getting something from the way we react and the decisions we make as their teacher. And that just doesn’t go for the student who isn’t inclined to do school work – that goes for the whole lot of them.


This is a short, 500-odd word, cautionary tale. It’s like those stories with the “life lesson” that you are supposed to gather by the end of reading, Hare and the Tortoise style. Except, this “message” is spelled out plainly. Each student that comes into your classroom wants to learn and do well point-blank. Some students do this easily, others simply cannot do it the way that schooling is currently set up, and the bravest of those simply reject schooling because of the latter. But those students, you know the ones I’m referring to, especially if you teach in an area where I teach, will figure out how to “survive” one way or another. Don’t be the man or woman that supports their “survival” in a detrimental way. Because, either way, they are learning something sitting in those classes day after day – it’s human nature to do so.



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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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