Over the years, I’ve heard colleagues say, “Only work as hard as your students do.” Frankly, that’s absolutely ridiculous. Great teachers need to learn, plan, grow, change, and then do it all over again. This takes time and energy. Great teaching requires a lot of work behind the scenes and outside of the classroom. However, to encourage teamwork and engagement, the students need to be doing the work during class. With good planning, a class could be run without the teacher and go smoothly because the students are doing all of the work. This takes time and practice on the part of the teacher and the students. A student-centered classroom is created over time. But, in the end, the students need to be doing all of the work because learning comes from doing. If a class is filled with teacher talk and lectures, then the students will become disengaged and genuine learning will not come about. The students need to be actively engaged in doing the learning.
To this end, after students turn in work or redo an assessment with me orally, they will thank me profusely as though I was the reason they met the objective. My immediate response is, “Don’t thank me. I didn’t do the work. You did the work.” I’m their guide on their learning journey. The learning and doing is in their hands. They do the work.
Today during Humanities class, the students spent the double-block working on their community service and artifacts projects. One group worked on preparing to execute a food drive and money collection for the End 68 Hours of Hunger program, which is in place at our local elementary school. Our boys are creating posters, making a speech at an all-school meeting, and have orchestrated dress down days and other ways to raise money for the cause. Today they finalized their presentation and posters for the dorms. Great teamwork was at play. One student has taken the role of facilitator and guides the group through the process. Another group worked on trying to put together plans for a community garden in a greenhouse. The students want to build a garden that will be used to grow food we can donate to our local food pantry. Since our growing season is so short in NH, they decided to go with a greenhouse to allow for growing all-year. They are pricing out the equipment, talking to professionals, and putting plans in place. So awesome! Two groups are working on putting together a plan for showcasing the artifacts the boys found earlier in the year during an archeological dig in Canaan. Three students worked on creating a website to display the pieces found with a short blurb about the history of the artifact while another group made a Google Map to list the places where they hope to hide and rebury the artifacts for future sixth grade classes to find. So cool. The boys worked together in groups, without input from the teachers unless they requested it. They were owning their work and doing it all. At times, my co-teacher and I looked at each other and said, “I feel helpless, like I should be doing something. But they are doing all the work so well on their own.” That’s when we knew, we had accomplished what all great teachers dream of: A student-centered and student-directed classroom where the teachers are quiet and guide learning from the sidelines.
So, while today felt a little awkward, it also felt pretty awesome. Everything we’ve been working so hard for all year, is finally in place. The students are solving their own problems, doing work independently while working together with their peers. They use their peers as resources and seek help from us rarely. It’s amazing. In the end, the students need to do the work if learning is going to be fostered. What kind of people do we want running the world when the current generation of adults becomes old and decrepit: People who need to ask their boss a question every five minutes or innovative problem solvers? I choose the latter and I hope every other teacher does as well.