I went back to school two years ago to gain knowledge about how STEM is changing what is needed in mathematics instruction. I hoped to gain skills and credentials so that I might be able to assist in the shift. I have gotten some of that but also so much I had not anticipated: peace of mind. While many educators are frustrated with what appears to be lazy and incapable students, I see the same behaviors within myself and my cohort but from an entirely different perspective.
The pace of living is hugely accelerated from when I was a young adult. Having mothered through the 80’s when most of us had the privilege of staying home, raising our own children and taking care of most of the household details, I continue to be amazed at how little time we have on our hands given all the conveniences. I didn’t have a microwave until my oldest was three. We chauffeured each other with one car. My children and I went to the park, attended daytime Bible studies, and visited nursing homes to serve and develop compassion. Now my life runs on a stopwatch. I struggled to teach my sons that anything worth doing, was worth doing well. Now I know that isn’t true.
We do what we need to do with the time we have just to keep our heads above water. My students don’t always understand and agree with the priorities I have in mind for them. I discovered in my doctoral studies that I do not always agree with the priorities my professors and cohort colleagues hold. None of us are lazy (we’re doc students). However the culture around us shapes what we decide to do. Students often put games ahead of academics, pleasure ahead of responsibility; but that doesn’t make them bad. We doc students get our work done because we have much to gain. Our students don’t see the point…at least they don’t wrap their minds around the day/night differences in their long-term results for doing or not doing what we have laid out for them.
Our students tune us out, pocket text, and procrastinate. Doc students do those same things. We miss deadlines because Outlook can be confusing or because a notification distracted us while directions were described. That nested email escapes our notice and we miss our cue. Our students are no different. Interestingly, I have found that my college has slowly been adapting to this culture and has implemented a variety of emotional and academic supports. We high school teachers are not always so accommodating, pointing to the need for students to get ready for college.
Do we need to have deadlines, accountability, and consequences? Absolutely. My point is we also need mercy and, more importantly for our own peace of mind, to withhold judgment, frustration, and self-criticism for not getting the results our passionate teaching seemingly should get. Since we are the ones holding the crystal ball, we need to do what we can to help our students see what difference their efforts will make. Knowing our students are also human and live in a frantically driven culture that seems less and less likely to continue as it is for the distant future can change our expectations and help us be more realistic. In that way, we can rest in being contemporarily normal.