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What Makes Teaching Fun?

October 19, 2009

Student boredom takes a toll on educators. It is disheartening. Burnout or withdrawal are possible consequences when the teacher’s efforts are met with indifference, and the burned-out or withdrawn teacher who stays in the profession is unlikely to create a classroom where learning is fun. In The Predictable Failure of Education Reform, Seymour Sarason (1990) proposes two key reasons for the failure of reform efforts. One reason is that students do not see school as relevant to their lives. The other reason, Sarason claims, is “the assumption that schools exist primarily for the growth and development of children,” going on to say that this “assumption is invalid because teachers cannot create and sustain the conditions for the productive development of children if those conditions do not exist for teachers.” I believe this to be true at any level of education from pre-school to graduate school.

It isn’t enough for students to enjoy being in a classroom. Their teachers must enjoy being there too. When the themes of fun are applied to learning, the responsibility of learners is part of the classroom equation. In the symbiotic environment of the classroom, students share the responsibility for creating spaces where teachers are interested and interesting in part because of the actions of the students themselves.

My secondary research related to fun in learning was inspired by a former middle school teacher turned prison matron and museum docent who told me that teaching middle schoolers and working in a prison were in many ways similar, and that one of the questions I should really be asking was. “When is teaching fun for teachers?” Since that encounter four years ago, I’ve been asking students and teachers what makes teaching fun and what makes it a drag. Here are some of the results:

Student behaviors/attitudes that help make teaching fun:

creativity
curiosity
commitment
consideration
originality
love of learning
kindness
acceptance
willingness to make points in a reasoned manner
openness
respect
willingness
humor
perseverance
patience
understanding
positive attitude
responsibility
forgiveness
careful listening and reading
trust
passion
questioning
compassion
integrity
enthusiasm
authenticity
insight
caring
observant
reflective
courtesy
connecting
finds relevance for self
interested and interesting

Student behaviors/attitudes that can make teaching a drag:

oppositional talk
blaming
whining
sucking up
lack of thought
sloppy work—literally, in the presentation, and intellectually, in the content
laziness (especially mental)
negativity
argumentiveness rather than reasonable disagreement
apathy
mediocrity
irresponsibility
meanness
bullying
excuse-making
lack of consideration
misinterpretation to make a point (deliberate misstatements)
disrespect
shoddy work
excessive cynicism
lack of caring
inattention

You could probably come up with these lists on your own. Even kindergarteners know that their behavior affects their teacher’s attitude, although they may be less able to verbalize it. Just as effective and caring teachers can make a difference in their students’ lives, so too can interested, involved, intentional, and caring students inspire the efforts of their teachers. So here’s today’s question:

Do you help make teaching fun for your teachers—or do your work and your actions in the classroom help make teaching a drag?

You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.
• Jim Rohn

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