I’m Not Elitist, I Just Parse That Way
My students have trouble understanding me when I talk to them. It’s hard to divorce myself from my too-recent college experience and remember what it’s like to live with parents, to have an allowance, to be so sick of that third-period government teacher who assigns way too much homework.
If I could get in their heads, somehow figure out how they see the world, try to understand that adolescent paradigm — my word of the week, in part because of the neato “-gm” digraph — I could be such a better teacher. I thought I had some small advantage over current teachers simply because I’m so much closer in age to these students.
Knowing about Guitar Hero or Super Smash Bros. only goes so far. That I’ve seen — and own — Zack Snyder’s 300 isn’t enough to really understand what makes these kids tick. Bantering only helps so much, and a rapport only goes so far. Quips and sarcastic rejoinders keep them entertained, but they don’t help teach.
I have to interact with them on the same level — and I say this without any conceit of “higher” or “lower” — but it’s all-but impossible to do that when I’m really in my element.
When I’m in my element, or just free-form writing, reasoning, responding, there is so much that is implied that I don’t feel I adequately get the sense of what I say across to my students. I can describe a situation, and to some extent, I can connect that to their experiences.
I simply can’t get them to care about what I care about. As they’re students, and as their needs come first, I end up facing the same Sisyphean ordeal every day, and in every class period. That link, naturally, is an exaggeration, but it has some truth to it.
What’s the best way to connect with students on such a level that there’s real discussion, and not just prodding them by calling names from the roll sheet? How do I make sure that students don’t just regurgitate what I say for the sake of a test, instead seeing that they engage with the subject, and that they connect with it on a personal level, unless they also associate on the same level with me?
In theory, and I paraphrase a professor or two, being visibly and actively engaged in the material is the surest way to get one’s students visibly and actively engaged in the material.
It hasn’t worked so far.
In this much, do I expect too much from my students? Should I just present them the material, test them on vocabulary and leave it at that? Or should try to get them to care? Should that really be my priority?