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I Just Spoke to My Son: Student Voice, Activated

My son, Eddie, just started 8th grade this year. He has always been a good student. He usually works hard. Eighth grade in our school district now resides at the “high school level” and along with that, a dreaded 7:45 a.m. start time exists. Often tired from doing homework each night and playing travel ice-hockey, Eddie, most certainly, likes some things about school, but he also really dislikes some things about school. Probably every kid does. I did.

But, what I find interesting is that when Eddie and I talked about how school was going, he opened up about some concerns and I remembered having those SAME concerns about school when I was a kid. So, why don’t some of these things change with some teachers? You might be wondering what those things are. Well, first, let me tell you what Eddie really loves about school:

  • Eddie loves his mathematics flipped classroom and when technology use makes sense versus just using technology in class for the heck of it.

  • Eddie loves when his teachers are excited about what they are teaching.

  • Small chunks of content works better for Eddie than long meandering tasks or projects.

  • “Answer what you can” versus “answer all 10 questions or die” is a philosophy that doesn’t make Eddie panic when he doesn’t understand something.

Those are amazing things that keep Eddie coming back to school and those are qualities and practices of amazing teachers, in his opinion. But, some days, he hates school because of the following factors that look so familiar to me when I was a kid:

  • Teachers should coordinate their schedules with one another so kids don’t feel ganged up on with incredible loads of homework or studying for tests on a particular night. What are we doing to increase communication among teachers?

  • Kids have to make choices to NOT do something they might like because they just need a break during the day. Eddie used to play the drums in elementary school and he was pretty good. But, as time went by, as his days grew more rigorous, he no longer was interested. Sometimes, kids just need a break. And, for Eddie, study hall is his only time to settle down and pull himself together. Some kids only have one break in school and that is “lunchtime” where noise and chaos sometimes doesn’t feel much like a break. Yet, as adults, we demand coffee breaks at work, people go outside to smoke a cigarette, or we want to have 1-hour lunch breaks. Some schools carve out time for recess, mindfulness practices, and those schools show significant increases in both student achievement and school enjoyment for students. Schedules have always been a problem in schools. So, what are we doing to fix that?

  • Silent detentions do not teach students anything about their infractions. AND, sometimes the infraction is just as simple as “talking in class.” So, the detention is set at 45 minutes and forcing silence only makes students resent their teachers. Don’t get me wrong. Eddie isn’t perfect. He makes mistakes like any other kid. But, what are we doing to address the ways in which we want students to behave or just be themselves without going nuts over every little thing?

  • Copying notes off of a whiteboard or projection screen still exists in schools today and so do long test review packets where kids have to fill in thousands of blanks in order to “study” for a test. Not much more to say here other than “Yuck.”

  • When Eddie doesn’t get something, attempts to re-teach him in the exact same way don’t work. Repeating isn’t re-teaching. So, what are we doing to ensure that a student “gets it”?

My guess is if we can fix the problems that Eddie brought to the table, kids will like school more than they already do. What is most important to know is that these are not just problems that Eddie has in school. They are common problems and faulty practices that have existed for decades and still exist today in so many schools.

Can student voice change this reality? I think we should “just ask our students” and find out what we can do to make their experiences more powerfully meaningful both inside and outside of school because school will be remembered in so many different ways by our students for the rest of their lives. Don’t we want them to remember the amazing stuff?

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