Hi! Do I have your attention? Good.
So, for those of you who have been wondering what happened to this blog, I decided to take some time off to sponge off my husband. Many people have informed me over the years that being a teacher is already sponging off my husband, and considering how many times he’s needed to purchase things for my classrooms over said years, I’d have to agree with them.
I always said to him that if I ever became complacent or stopped enjoying teaching, he should hit me upside the head with a cricket bat. Fortunately, he didn’t need to because I had hernia surgery last summer that went bad and kicked off a whole new round of Fibromyalgia. So, I’m currently being the world’s worst housewife.
But the other reason I haven’t been writing is because when I was a teacher, I went to many conferences where some Johnny-in-the-Pulpit preached to me all the ways and reasons why I was teaching wrongly, and how I should fix it. Most of these people were academics who were only ever in the classroom as students until they became professors. Few of them had real help to give because they were not currently in the classroom. It pissed me off. So writing to you real teachers, who are currently in the trenches, when I’m not, feels like I’m being a class traitor. So, it wasn’t until I could no longer keep a lid on it that I decided to go back to the blog. And I start by pissing you off. Hey, it’s a talent.
What I saw that ticked me off was an article about why classrooms should be fun. Which led me to this conclusion: Fun sucks. It really does. For so many reasons. I’ll list some for you.
1) Fun is relative. It is hard to know what will be fun to you versus what is fun to your students. For example, I think it’s fun to schedule a stitch and bitch knitting meet-up at one of the local strip clubs where, sitting in the dark with headlamps and needles (knitting), we knit g-strings for the dancers. (That’s a hoot. That is until we are bounced out for not buying drinks and upsetting the usual punters. I won’t tell you how many times I’ve done this and in how many countries.) But my point is that although I think this is hi-larious, many other more sane people don’t. And on an infinitely smaller and less morally questionable scale, the same thing happens in the classroom. Go ahead, ask your middle school student if something is fun (I almost wrote “if x is fun” but I know it would just send you right back to the strip club. Pull your mind out of the gutter.) What does your student say? “It was ok,” and then they shrug or roll their eyes. Just don’t ask. No matter how you couch it, somebody is going to complain about it. Trying to organize fun sucks.
2) Fun is not guaranteed in life. 90% of the work we do, anybody does, is not fun. It might be satisfying. It might be interesting. It might be a challenge. But fun is a diaphanous quantity (or quality, take your pick). Although it is true that the more fun you have the more likely you will be to stick with it. But, if we start by promising fun and trying to create an environment that is mostly all fun, we do a serious disservice to the other adjectives that work is. Fun is hard work for you, and lazy for them.
3) Fun is not a good teacher. Let’s think about all the things that cannot be curriculum if we only do things that are fun. The Holocaust. Lord of the Flies. The Salem Witch Trials. Slavery. And I’m sorry, but if you are teaching the Roman Empire and it’s all fun, you are really are doing it wrong. It sure as hell wasn’t fun for the Celtic people, the Germanic Tribes, and certainly not for the Dacians, otherwise known as the people who would become the Romanians. And these are really worthwhile things to teach. I won’t go into what’s possible on the elementary level because I only subbed there, but I think it is probably true that those teachers also find it difficult to keep Fun! at the top of the list. Fun makes a bad developer of curricula.
So, that’s three good reasons why people need to stop hoisting themselves on their own petards. They are why it is okay to not feel guilty when your curricula are not based on Fun!.
Not that fun has no place in the classroom. Fun can be had. But like the chocolate chips in a good cookie, it needs to be something to be looked forward to. The cookie part has to be good, too. Sure, many of us don’t notice the cookie part so much, but it isn’t just a complicated method of cramming chocolate chips into our gobs.
What will work? I think it can be found by having curriculum that is satisfying. And satisfying is much more quantifiable. Do your students know something or have a skill that they didn’t have when they walked into the classroom? Do they feel that something was hard but worth it? Can they see the progress that they are making towards a goal? Going back to the cookie metaphor, having a strong curricula based on satisfactions and recognizable goals makes the chocolate chips of fun that much better. With maybe a sprinkling of coarse salt on top. (I’ve got to stop with this metaphor or I’m going to have to go make cookies. Again.)
And do you know what is really, really awesome about curricula based on recognized growth and hard, but satisfying work? The students sometimes don’t even know they are growing. While they are toiling away at something that maybe doesn’t look attainable (yet) and sure as hell isn’t fun, they are still growing. I only know this anecdotally because of the number of former students who have come back and said to me, I hated you, and I hated this when you made me learn it, but now I’m really, really glad you did. (I’m paraphrasing here.) Fun is immediate. Satisfying is about delaying gratification, and you all have heard the statistics about those who can delay gratification even for a little while.
So, yeah. If we try to make fun do too much, then fun sucks. Feeling satisfied, seeing reasonable goals being attained, feeling the worth of the knowledge is a much better recipe for creating not just a happy classroom, but also life-long learners. You can grow with challenge, you can grow with hard work, you can grow when you see a worthwhile challenge. Let’s let fun be what it is meant to be. Not the basis for curricula, but those gooey, yummy, moments of delight that sets the whole class smiling.
Note: Hubby and I are having many words about the use of curricula vs. curriculum. I will defer to Terry Pratchett’s The Color of Magic to help me remember this rule.