When even the adults wait for mysterious ‘fun’ to happen, what hope is there for children?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this as well, but the popularity of Facebook seems to be trailing off a little bit. I noticed one acquaintance of mine hadn’t posted in ages, so I asked what had changed. It turns out that she had decided to only use Facebook to check whether she had been tagged or had notifications, rather than actually post anything herself or generally log in to catch up on people’s news. Apparently, this method of using social media was saving masses of time for her and besides, Facebook seemed to be losing its appeal these days.

For me, Facebook is a simple way to catch up on the news of friends near and far, but I do appreciate that it is ‘friendship-lite’ and that I need to make more effort than simply ‘liking’ something every now and then. However, I don’t view it as some mysterious entity that is working one minute, and then suddenly ‘boring’ the next minute; the only thing that really changes is how people actually use it. Basically, in deciding that Facebook was a bit shit and a waste of time, my friend was now contributing to Facebook being a bit shit and a waste of time by passing on responsibility for it being ‘interesting’ to everyone else she was connected to. If everyone did this, and more and more people seem to be doing exactly this not just on Facebook but with life in general, Facebook would eventually fade into the night with all the naysayers saying, ‘I told you it was shit anyway.’

What’s this got to do with education? Well, if even adults seem to think ‘fun’ is some mysterious entity that is always the responsibility of others,  then what hope do we have of helping children to understand that ‘fun’ and friendship is a two-way street where each and everyone of us has a responsibility to make life interesting for ourselves and each other? It’s as if we all want to be spoon fed constantly.

fun
‘This is how all maths lessons should be!’ said everyone except the maths teacher.

‘Fun’ is all in the mind. One of the ways we can make an effort is to decide to be open and take an interest because this decision tends to create a positive vibe, but one person cannot do all the work while everyone else sits back and waits for the magic! In the classroom, I see so many children sit back literally and metaphorically, waiting for the teacher to be that one person to somehow make everything fun for them. The trouble is, if more and more children do that, especially if they’re now so used to whizz-bang lessons, then, one by one, they switch off and contribute to the diminishing good vibes that leave the very few hard working children feeling a bit down, guilty even. Even if the teacher was some all-singing, all-dancing funfest of a human, then the children would get used to him and then compare him unfavourably to the all-singing, all-dancing funfest represented in the latest addition to the PE department.

Perhaps children need to be taught to understand that fun is basically all in the mind? School subjects are very easily seen as ‘boring’, leading to closed minds, fewer questions, the bare minimum of effort that naturally leads to subjects genuinely becoming boring and frustrating because of less knowledge being acquired; they do it to themselves effectively. I actually feel sorry for these children because their default mindset, if allowed to continue, can only lead to much disappointment and sadness in life.

How to turn this around? The number of children who sulk pretty much all the way through primary school seems to be increasing and I must admit that it is very hard to enthuse a child who has given himself permission to not just bail out, but make sure everyone else knows about it as well. It’s pretty poor form because they can’t even let other children enjoy a subject. And yes, I do try to mix up my lessons as well as balance their curriculum, but it’s always the same children inclined to be ‘searching’ for evidence that a lesson is boring etc. Here’s what I do with my very limited powers:

  • I just go right ahead and ban sulking, whining and generally poo-pooing a subject in my classroom. I tell the children that by switching off, messing about, sulking, whining, doing the bare minimum etc they are making other children who do the right thing and who do find a subject interesting feel sad, guilty and that is NOT ON. I also tell these children that they have NO RIGHT to stop another child learning either. I have absolutely zero tolerance on this matter and no amount of posturing and pontificating from a progressive will ever make me back down and compromise children’s education.
  • I explain to children that even though I like maths now and find it interesting, it’s only because I worked hard and decided to like it. I tell them that they can choose the same path themselves.
  • We have the concept of ‘going for a PB’ with all our tests and anything else we can think of really, which does help with the good vibes. Children have been loving this!
  • Being strict and making sure there are consequences for sulky behaviour and sloppy effort. All the children are here to learn and they can either choose to learn and behave, or I will make them learn and behave because their future success and happiness depends on it. I hope that these children eventually mature.
  • I remind myself that first and foremost I am a teacher and an experienced parent, not a psychologist. Therefore I don’t indulge in any weird nonsense, just good ol’ fashioned mix of stern words, encouragement, praise etc
  • Good teaching such that the children are equipped with as much skills and knowledge as is possible for me to equip them with. You tend to find happiness and confidence is linked to prowess in that subject and the general realisation that hard work is its own reward, so I try to help the sulkers to become good at something academic by making them work hard! I think about their future secondary teacher who doesn’t want a sulker to ruin lessons.

Of course, if I had more power then I would look at whole-school policies. What is it about the school ethos, policies and rules (or lack thereof) that is making children feel they can ‘rate’ their lesson and their teacher constantly, ultimately leading to much sadness and disappointment for children? I’ve always felt that a whole year of ‘choosing’ in EYFS doesn’t exactly help children who are inclined to this way of thinking, but there are many, many other aspects of primary school life, policies brought in out of kindness yet actually undermine the teacher and learning in the classroom, that contribute to this problem.

In the meantime, chin up!

Who’s with me?

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