Students and teachers weigh in on what they really want the administration to hear

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Students and teachers weigh in on what they really want the administration to hear

Students clamor around a table set in the middle of history teacher Brad Anderson’s classroom. The cause of the commotion? The conversation heating up between the four students seated at the middle table. Ideas bounced between them are presented, tested, refuted, accepted. All of it is part of Brad Anderson’s fishbowl (Socratic Seminar) on modern culture and school-related topics/issues.

“I’m always trying to think about what is a valuable experience for my students beyond just the content,” Anderson said. “Anybody can learn the content; what our world needs is competent citizens who have some real-world skills. And the idea behind the discussion was [that] I don’t think we as educators hear from students enough, and sometimes I feel as educators, we don’t know the world they’re living in.”

So that’s where the conversation started: with words and phrases that get overused in today’s society so that Anderson could feel like he understood our world a little better.

“There is a high rate of change,” Anderson said, “and I am now generationally divorced from your generation. I don’t know your world. I don’t know the music. I don’t know social media. So, selfishly, I wanted to learn about the culture that is being a teenager so I could better understand my learners.”

While those topics may have been more solely for Anderson’s benefit and certainly less divisive, once the conversation moved towards the problems (and praises) the students had towards the education system, things got real.

Part of the conversation was shadowed, however, by the question “Is real change made when students speak up?” And there isn’t a unanimous answer, not by a long shot.

Some believe students aren’t heard. At least not in the ways that count.

“I actually really don’t [think students are listened to],” junior Olivia Luplow said. “I think that even though the adults and administration have to kind of listen to us and pretend that we’re being heard, in the end, it doesn’t really come down to what we want. It all comes down to the decisions that are made within the administration. I do think they’re made for our own benefit, they’re not harmful to us, but I just feel like student input isn’t really the biggest factor that goes into changing things.”

Others, like junior Alexander Hahn, put their differing opinion rather simply, saying, “If I talk to the administration, they hear me.”

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Anderson went a step beyond agreeing or disagreeing by speaking to what he heard during the discussion and what he has learned throughout his years of teaching.

“What I really gleaned from the conversation was, here’s how we learned and here’s where we find value,” Anderson said. “I think yes, students can change, but teachers have to listen. I love my colleagues, but I don’t know if everybody’s ready. It’s painful because there were some conversations that I heard that I just wanted to sink down into my chair because I’m like, ‘Oh crap, I did that.’ I think some of my peers and colleagues would be really well served to hear the conversations that went on in my classroom as far as homework, as far as cheating, as far as what fires kids up, as far as what they find relevant. You know, granted 17-year-olds don’t know everything, they don’t even know close to everything, but they are a lot wiser than we give them credit for.”

So, here, for all the world to see, is the wisdom of teenagers and some of the amazingly strong people in the classroom with them every day.

Homework

As students cycle through the table in the middle of Anderson’s room, the topic of homework becomes a center point in the discussion. As you can imagine, many students are strongly against homework. You will find though, that there are some who believe it should be given as an option.

“Homework should be optional or extra credit,” junior Sam Vanderiet said. “That would allow for kids to better manage their time and focus on studying for classes that they actually need to study for.”

Others see homework as ultimately beneficial but struggle with the ‘home’ part of the word, believing instead that students should have a study hour in which they can complete any supplemental work they are given.

“I just think the idea of homework is ultimately, yes, beneficial, but I also think that it doesn’t need to be done at home,” Olivia said. “It doesn’t need to be homework. It’s supplemental work to help your learning. So I feel like forcing students to stay up super late doing it at home isn’t really the point. I think if everyone got a designated study hour, already in their schedule, I think a lot of people would do their homework more because they would have that time, and I just think it would be really helpful, especially for me and I’m sure so many other people.”

Anderson personally believes that ‘homework’ is not the problem, but ‘busywork’ is. He fervently speaks to the importance of reading for all ages. However, he struggles to understand the concept of presenting students with repetitive work if they have already mastered the topic.

“There should be no busy work,” Anderson said. “Kids nowadays do way more than I did twenty years ago and way more than the people twenty years before that. And there’s no conclusive evidence that homework equals success or better learning. There’s none. Like why do you have to do thirty problems? Like you just do one. Once you figure it out, you’re good.”

There should be no busy work, Kids nowadays do way more than I did twenty years ago and way more than the people twenty years before that. And there’s no conclusive evidence that homework equals success or better learning. There’s none. Like why do you have to do thirty problems? Like you just do one. Once you figure it out, you’re good.”

— Brad Anderson

Due to the fact that Anderson has elementary-aged girls whom he watches daily working through homework, he believes even more strongly in the abolition of homework in elementary schools. He wishes instead he was watching his girls reading or outside playing.

“I would get rid of the homework,” Anderson said. “Especially for elementary-age kids, since they, especially, should be playing. They should be outdoors.”

Later Start Time

There’s really no general consensus when it comes to whether or not people believe we should have a later start time. For Anderson, who believes strongly in things like hard work and dedication, the answer is rather simple.

“You know, if you want more sleep, go to bed earlier,” Anderson said.

To which a student may retaliate by saying that they’re up so late doing homework.

In any case, most can agree that the logistics of a later start time would cause much change to how the school day is run.

“I don’t really have strong feelings about a later start time,” Olivia said. “I think one hour could make a difference, but also then you have to stay at school an extra hour. It’s getting darker when you’re at school. There’s just all these factors, and I kind of think it’s an important thing, but it’s not the most important thing because we all come here anyway.”

Junior Anabel Varghese, however, disagrees with Olivia stating instead that, “scientifically speaking, we do work better later in the day.”

While Anabel is right in saying that there is science which says that adolescents have a switch in their internal clock when they hit puberty that causes their bodies to naturally rise and go to bed later (https://www.neurologytimes.com/blog/teenage-circadian-rhythm), Anderson knows that students will be expected to rise earlier in their adult lives and believes now is a good time to practice.

“I don’t think it hurts the students to learn about early rising,” Anderson said. “Early to bed, early to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Class Structure

In more pointed discussions about how the school system is organized, many people expressed at least an interest in an upheaval of the current structure.

Olivia was a student at a Montessori school for her elementary years and attributes that experience with many of the qualities she possesses which help her in high school. Montessori school involves learning more centered around the individual. The students each receive a list of tasks they must complete during the day but are given the freedom to decide when during the day they wish to complete their tasks. Students are still given lessons, yet they are shorter, and the students are given more time to work through things themselves and go to their teachers for help.

“People always asked why I turned my stories [for The Central Trend] in so early,” Olivia said. “I just think that being in Montessori really helped me learn how to control my own time. Even though I also like the structure of [our high school], I think it would be beneficial for everyone to start school with a Montessori base because I think it helps students really learn from a very young age about your schedule and your time management.”

There were many other ideas presented as possibilities, each with their own unique twists and challenges; however, they all seemed to involve a far more independent and individualized base. Anderson agreed that academic freedom needs to become more central to students learning, though he pointed out that any such changes made to the school system would have to be heavily planned and well thought out. Otherwise, you run the risk of creating only one thing: chaos.

American Sign Language teacher Kimberly Anderson (of no relation to Brad Anderson), believes that there are many ways to work towards a more personalized arrangement, yet the stigma surrounding alternative learning options keeps students from using those resources to create a better schedule for themselves.

She also wonders about the requirements needed for graduation and the restrictions those place on personalizing our education.

“I feel like there are just more opportunities and people are so stuck on reaching deadlines that a lot of opportunities are missed,” Anderson said. “And I think if you were to look at the schedule again, it’d be like, what’s really important here? Let’s try to figure that out. Because is it necessary for someone to take four years of math? I don’t know. What if they reach AP junior year, should they still have to take it senior year? I don’t know. So I think somewhere down the line, there have to be accommodations made for kids that are doing really well because I feel like accommodations are made for kids that aren’t.”

Relationships and Respect

“A lot of students said that they don’t feel like teachers care about them or take a personal interest in them,” Kimberly Anderson said. “So a lot of our professional development revolves around how to show students that you take a personal interest.”

For many teachers, this can be difficult due to the sheer amount of students they see on a daily basis. However, Anderson’s role as a language teacher creates a unique struggle in creating relationships.

The language classes work in levels, so no matter your grade, you start in level one and move up to a new level each year. With each higher level, there are fewer and fewer students who continue to take ASL. Therefore, it’s hard to create relationships with her level ones who are from multiple different grades and of whom there is a lot. However, building relationships with her level twos, threes, and fours is more doable.

This issue of relationships between students and teachers is closely intertwined with too large class sizes and brings to light the struggle of teachers to meet students needs when they have overflowing classes.

“I’m really lucky that I have the three and fours, because level one, and I was honest when I was asked by the administration about this, I honestly don’t care about their personal lives or anything because I usually have like 36 and they’re just nuts,” Anderson said. “I’m doing good if I make sure no one falls on the floor. I don’t have time to be like, ‘Hi, did you have a good weekend,’ Because there’s too many of them.”

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Although the relationship aspect is far more difficult to obtain, Anderson believes that respect is most certainly a part of the equation. The two work together to build a connection between teachers and students that benefits both sides.

“I still respect the [level] ones. I do care, but I just don’t ask them what they did over the weekend or you know, if they went to homecoming,” Anderson said. “I don’t know so much about their learning, but I know when they come to class, if they know we have that connection, they’re more willing to work with me. So maybe not necessarily more willing to learn my content, but they’re more willing to show respect and to show that they’re trying to do certain things. I think if we’re closer, they don’t want to disappoint me, and they’ll try harder.”

But respect, and the journey to building it, is a two-way street.

“The [students] that have issues don’t know what respect is. And I can’t demand it from someone that doesn’t understand it,” Anderson said. “I get way more respect from certain hours and they, in turn, have a better environment of learning, and they succeed and excel in a much different degree than the ones that don’t.”

Olivia also believes in the idea that cultivating respect can benefit both students and teacher, and that respect, to her, means a dismantling of the supreme power some teacher chose to wield in their classrooms.

“With Mr. George and Mr. Anderson, I feel like there’s a level of respect between both sides rather than just students being forced to obey teachers because that’s just how it is,” Olivia said. “I think it’s way more beneficial when there’s a relationship where students can say how they feel. Like when teachers ask for criticism and it’s more of learning on both sides kind of thing, rather than just the teacher acting like they know it all and we’re only there because we’re learning from them.”

To Conclude…

No matter what the topic was, the debate raging around that table in the middle of Brad Anderson’s room was undeniably refreshing. To hear the many unique perspectives of such a diverse group of students was an experience every student, teacher, and administrator should have.

There was a plethora of new and innovative ideas spilling from this young assemblage. The sheer number of ideas could fill many more pages. This has been a simple base for the change that students and teachers are clamoring for.

Of all the ideas presented, these were a few of the many that came up again and again; homework, a later start time, the structure of our classes, and the respect and relationships students and teachers alike wish to cultivate.

In short, we are asking for more of what Brad Anderson gave us with his class discussion.

“I am not just a walking cliche: improvise, adapt and overcome,” Anderson said. “I come into the school year with the plan, but I will adapt to the students I have. I will adapt to new circumstances. I will adapt to new and relevant information. Everyone would do well to do the same from our government to our staff. Everybody, when you get new information, it’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to change your direction. It’s okay to change your course, you know, the goals don’t change, right? But the way you go about it can.”

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