I often think about being a student. Not a student of today's generation in today's primary school classrooms but about being an adult student in a University. Learning and growing. Upskilling and banking more knowledge. My vision of being a student is somewhat clouded by time, by the distance since I actually sat day after day in a learning environment. It seems like a pleasant way to spend my days, a somewhat comical dream of an educational utopia. And then today happened. Days like this one come along ever so often to remind me that my vision may most likely not be my reality should I endeavour to pursue this dream.
Today I sat as a student in a course for just over 6.5 hours. Don't get me wrong, it was a very worthwhile and interesting course. I learnt a lot. Came away with fresh ideas and a plan of attack for moving forward with the new knowledge and skills I gained. But I sat. Pretty still, for nearly 6.5 hours. The course had some interactive times, and lots of opportunity for discussion and sharing. But mostly I sat and listened. At first the novelty of not being the one with the plan of how the day was to proceed was kind of nice. I was the passenger in the car on a journey that I knew the sort-of-whereabouts of the destination but not the stops and sights along the way. It was nice... for a while.
I felt myself becoming more distracted as the day went on. The content was still interesting. The presenter was great, very enthusiastic and exuberant. The air conditioning was on... sometimes. When it wasn't I fidgeted, looked around for some fresh source of air. People started yawning. I yawned too and the presenter saw me. I felt bad. I know how it feels when you think that someone might be getting tired and bored of what you are saying. Students are less obvious in their disguise of this emotional state. I drank water, took a toilet break. Tried not to check how much time was left until a break. Two 20 minute breaks all day. It wasn't enough.
Like I said, it wasn't that the course wasn't a good course. It was. It wasn't that the presenter was boring or dull. She wasn't. It was the sitting. The time spent passively listening. It made me tired and my brain slowly became more and more sluggish.
The lady next to me confided that she was feeling tired, bored, fidgety. I leaned close and said oh our poor students. How often do we expect them to sit still and listen? To participate when we ask them to? To not fidget or become distracted? To deal with the heat or coolness of the classroom without having control of the temperature? I made a mistake and didn't hear an instruction to use a certain pair of colours for a task about grouping. I had to re-do the offending slips in the correct colour. It didn't seem like a big deal. But I sucked it up. How often do our students feel like this? That what they have been asked to re-do isn't a big deal? That the task was done... what's the problem?
Lessons like this a very much needed for teachers. I need them. They make me a better teacher. More tuned in to how my students are feeling. To the struggles they go through to sit through lessons, where I know the importance of the process or task... but they might not.
As we try to cram more and more into our school days, covering our curriculum requirements we sometimes run into morning tea... lunchtime... Not a big deal right? Wrong I found myself feeling today. My lunchtime was later than I'd been led to believe. I was hungry and in need of a break. Those few minutes of time that 'didn't matter' because we were still learning... mattered. To me. How much do they matter to our students? I wonder if they look at the clock, sigh inwardly (or outwardly!).
Today's lessons were so important. I got the course information and the drive to bring a new programme to fruition in our school. But it was so much more than this that I walked away with. I will be approaching the week differently on Monday. Planning for more interaction. More student input. Having break time, even short impromptu ones, more regularly. Access to water. Fresh air. Lots of discussion time. Choice over activities and topics as much as possible. Less covered, but what is covered, covered better. Food. Stretching.
I know the students are going to appreciate it. I think I will too.