If you are an arts educator whose students have presented work to the public, you have probably heard something like this. On the one hand, it is a lovely sentiment. Someone has consumed the play, art show, concert, dance recital, etc. that your students made, and they have enjoyed it. And the compliment seems meant to extend to you: the students did well, and therefore, so did you.
Finding my purpose in education was born out of an immense frustration with education itself. After night after night of cramming lesson plans that paired perfectly with standards (and “differentiating” with the latest tech tool), grading 80+ assignments, and becoming increasingly frustrated with students forgetting everything I told them, I began to wonder why I even bothered. I drank more, I was increasingly negative and irate, and I lost much of the drive I entered the profession with.
I believe in hard work. Had to. We didn’t go to church on Sunday. We worked on Sunday. Work was our worship. When school was out, work was in. Every weekend, every break, every summer, there was work to be done. So, we worked. And while I didn’t always appreciate the lessons from work when I was younger, I proudly acknowledge the impact they had on shaping the person I am today. Hard work matters.
Easily the most daunting challenge I face is the apathetic teenager, one who is disheartened, disengaged, or likely distracted by something much more appealing: Clash of Clans, Fortnite, Snapchat, the latest memes — what have you. How can I possibly design a curriculum that conquers instant gratification?
When your classroom doesn’t look like any other classroom — students are often overjoyed, but also bewildered. Why would I do anything when it’s not for a grade? If they’re not going to lecture, why wouldn’t I just goof off? If there’s not a test, is any of this information relevant? Educators face this scenario daily: by doubling down on progressive practice, their unwillingness to embrace the traditional delegitimizes their class.
If the goal is to unite everyone for a common cause, let’s rally together: “We all work everyday doing what’s best for children.” “We care about kids.” “We work tirelessly for our students.” Frankly, I’m tired of statements like these. It’s the perfect copout to any argument, a safety blanket for failing at innovative practice.