“Why do we have midterms?” a kid asks.
“Beats me,” I say. “Two wasted weeks. I’d rather teach. It’s required.” The kid gives me that “Aren’t you the adult…you’re supposed to be in charge,” look.
I’m not in charge. I’m a teacher. You’re confusing me with a CEO or the President, kid.
Education’s a lot of “required” stuff rolling downhill. If I were really in charge, I’d abolish exams because they are two wasted weeks. I already gave the test. I don’t need to give a big exam to say, “Ah-HA! You STILL don’t know!”
I’d also get rid of report cards–it costs a ton to mail them. I’m cheap, and why make kids rush home to pluck bad grades out of mailboxes when everything’s online?
“An exam? But we didn’t learn anything!” the kid says.
“But we didn’t learn anything” is the biggest complement a kid can give.
“Then I’ve done my job.” I say.
“How?” she asks.
“Because you didn’t even realize you learned. You had fun.” Maybe students want me to make them suffer instead? She says no.
Still, she doubts learning so I fire off some questions. “Tell me about this!” I get an answer. “Explain that!” I get an answer. “Give me an example of this… ” Three right answers.
Poor kids… they’re so discombobulated by high-stakes through the heart testing and everyone-standardize tasks, they don’t recognize how easily they absorb things if they’re interested. The best learning comes disguised as fun.
“Learn things you love!” I always say. When I teach and learn to passion instead of obligation, learning is easy.
“Is it gonna be on the test?” they respond.
I hate “The Test.” In my glass-half-full spirit, I remind myself The Test gives me a rare moment of silence in the middle of my busy school year.
I recite a laundry list of skills we’ve practiced and things they’ve learned. Some nod in awe. The rest ask about The Essay.
“How long does it have to be?”
“What do you want me to put?”
“How many sentences in a paragraph?”
“Put what you think is right, then back it up,” I say. “Long enough to be informative, correct, and to inform your reader… ” Truth is, I don’t want any budding Tolstoys. Give me a Hemmingway–brief, to the point. I’ve got to read these things.
“What do you want me to write?” they ask.
They cannot free themselves from the prison of “What do YOU want?”
“Think, research, defend!” I tell them that’s what the best CEO does. That’s what a famous scientist does…that’s a skill they’ll use.
A girl runs in. “Did you realize you can take Sports Management for free online at Cornell?”
That’s the whole point. I tell her to register for the course. Do it for real. This is the lesson I’ve been trying to teach all along.
A good friend once said to me, “How about if you stop playing around with this stuff… and do it for real.”
I said “yes.”
I only said “yes” because I didn’t know the odds were against me, but here’s the secret:
“Yes” leads to magic every time. I dug into my passions and changed my life forever.
A girl brings in the sketch of a business plan. She’s made a list of what people will pay her to do, now she’s thinking about rates. She’s worked harder than she would on any class assignment, but she doesn’t feel she’s working at all. She’s passionate.
I tell her I know she’ll make a ton of money before graduation, or at the very least, she’ll have a solid business.
She smiles. She should. She’s done more work than many adults. Adults are used to saying things like “can’t” and “no.” Teens don’t know the odds are against them either, so they say “yes” and break through the roadblocks the system erects like Olympic champions.
“Sorry, kid.” I turn to Midterm Hater. “You still have to take my midterm.” In some spaces, rules are rules. Education is one of those spaces.
They grumble. I sit. I make another cup of coffee and prepare to enjoy the quiet.
We take the little pleasures as they come, and work hard to create more of them.
That’s what living a good life’s all about.