What Happened to the “Fun” in Fundamentals?

What Happened to the “Fun” in Fundamentals?

My son said to me last night that he didn’t want to go to school tomorrow. As he is 11 and just started middle school, I ran the myriad of thoughts that any normal mom would – maybe it’s the new schedule, perhaps it’s a teacher, maybe the other students? Was he scared? Was the food in the cafeteria horrible?

His answer was simple. “It’s not fun, mom. Why can’t school be fun? Why does it have to be worksheets and boring?”

I stopped dead in my tracks. He was 100% right! What happened to the fun? As a teacher, I define “fun” as having the freedom to be creative with lessons and instruction and to allow children the opportunity to explore. Unfortunately, in many districts and schools, teachers are not allowed to be so creative anymore.

A friend of mine, in a local district, who teaches second grade, had to stop doing word games because her principal told her that it took up time from the students’ learning. In fact, she has to follow a very strict and prescribed schedule. If she isn’t on page 23 in the Literacy textbook at 3 pm, she could suffer formal repercussions for being “off task.”

Is it possible to be creative or “fun” when working in a rigid environment?

The teaching environment right now includes state assessments and state standards. In some places, there are rigid lesson plans that teachers must also adhere to. Though the quality of assessments is a whole other topic, I believe, like most teachers, that both assessments and standards are critical to education. We must have a means by which to measure if skills are being taught and learned and standards give us baseline goals.

I would argue that assessments and standards still allow room for teacher creativity but prescribed lesson plans passed down from the district do not. This is detrimental to our students’ learning. How can we teach them to think critically, problem solve and work collaboratively on projects if we do not teach them those skills? While we don’t know what lies ahead for this generation, we do know that if they can’t work to solve a problem, or think out of the box, they won’t be able to compete in the global job market. Dates, times, and facts they can look up, but learning and thinking skills take training and creative teaching.

How can school/district leaders create a work environment that allows for teachers to use creative instructional techniques?

I recently read a terrific book called The Influence of Teachers: Reflections on Teaching and Leadership by John Merrow. In a chapter called Serious Fun, Merrow emphasizes the importance of learning to work together and that learning, being curious, is inherently fun. He argues that, “schools must become places where young people are encouraged to ask questions, not simply regurgitate answers.” In order to create that type of environment, teachers need to have control over their classrooms and instructional practices.

I suggest that school and district officials and policymakers continue to set high standards but simultaneously provide teachers with the flexibility to meet those standards. Teachers have been trained in how to teach. We went to school for it and many of us have completed masters and doctorate degrees to strengthen those skills. We don’t need to follow a book written by a publishing company to help our students learn.

Albert Einstein once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Einstein got it… but if he were alive today, I am not sure that he would have had the opportunity to think out of the box and be creative. Who knows, in today’s world, E=MC^2 might have been stopped at E= because “That’s not on the test Albert.”

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