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No Fun Whatsoever

October 29, 2009

Yesterday, I wrote about how mid-terms were often a difficult time for me. No one who researches fun in school can ignore the fact that school is often not fun for students. I’ve had many conversations with strangers about school. Once someone finds out you’re a teacher, the floodgates of memory often open and the river of kudos and complaints flows out. I’ve listened to many stories about wonderful teachers and, fortunately, not as many about teachers who can still, years later, bring tears to a former student’s eyes.

One of the questions on the fun survey I’ve been distributing for more than two decades asks respondents to “feel free to describe a time when learning was NOT fun for you.” Probably one of the most important reasons to make friends in school, to join study groups and clubs, and to participate in other activities is because these things can help make school fun even when what’s happening in the classroom isn’t. There are lots of reasons for “no fun,” as you can see in this found poem compiled from survey responses:

It’s Not Fun When. . . . .
A Found Poem from Zinn Fun Survey Responses

you are made to look like a fool by the teacher for not understanding the subject matter.—Man, age 22

you are bullied and scared.—Woman, age 34

you don’t understand and are scared to ask questions, so you get lost.—Young man, age 17

the teacher doesn’t know who you are—after six months.—Young woman, age 16

you are told that you cannot be who or what you’d always imagined you could be.—Woman, age 61

you have to take notes all the time and not talk about what we are covering.—Boy, age 9

the teacher yells.—Girl, age 10

you can’t read.—Man, age 34

the teacher drones on and on and on, just loving the sound of his own voice.—Woman, age 24

the material has no relevance to me and I have no motivation to learn.
–Man, age 36

people make fun of you and the teacher doesn’t stop them.—Boy, age 11

the teacher is in a bad mood.—Girl, age 9

there are things on the test that you never studied.—Man, age 40

there’s too much homework and no time to do it.—Young woman, age 16

it’s boring, you are lost, feel completely inadequate, dumb.—Woman, age 49

the teacher had favorites, like in P.E.—Woman age 46

Teachers are human and sometimes they have bad days. Sometimes, especially in college, teachers know lots about their subject and less about managing human beings in the classroom. I hope you’ll appreciate these people and be generous with their shortcomings while also getting all you can from their courses. I’m not trying to make excuses for us. I try never to hurt someone’s feelings or make a student feel stupid. I am never deliberately confusing, but sometimes what’s happening in my head isn’t translated onto the page or through my mouth as clearly as I might wish. I know that I am not alone in hoping that my actions are helping students learn, not hindering them, but sometimes, even though a teacher’s intentions are good, the outcome is not, as in this story from an adult recalling something that happened many years ago:

It happened in second grade—I loved school and all the friends I’d made. I talked to them in class. In honor of me, she said, the teacher created the chatterbox and drew it on the board. My name was the first name written in the box. I was humiliated. I became the quietest person in the class. Nobody could hear me any more. We had to draw a picture illustrating “as quiet as. . .”—I drew a turtle. A boy in the class drew a picture of me. I quit writing so you could see it—my handwriting was so light it couldn’t be read.

This teacher probably thought she was handling the student’s talking with humor, and never realized the unintended consequences of her actions. Things like this may happen to you, in class or with friends. Sometimes it’s appropriate to speak up immediately and let the person know the effect her or his words or actions actually had. While there are times to do this publicly, particularly if someone has been inappropriately disrespectful, I do suggest that students adopt the same kind of strategy recommended for teachers: have the discussion in private, state your case in a non-accusatory manner, allow the other person to clarify, listen, be willing to problem-solve, and determine productive ways to move past the incident.

In one of my favorite Peanuts’ cartoons, one of Charles Schultz’s characters says, “Try not to have a good time. This is supposed to be educational.” Fun in learning truly is about being fully engaged in personally meaningful educational experiences. Sometimes systemic realities or things that happen in the classroom are not fun, so what are you going to do about it?

What’s not fun for you in school—and what can you do to change things?

I’ve realized that sometimes the only thing I can change is my attitude.
• SOU Master of Arts in Teaching student, 2009

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