Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why I Love Teaching but Hate Students (Sometimes)

Dear Internet,

I am currently nearing the end of my first teaching experience ever. Since January, I've been teaching and tutoring at an independent school in Ontario. It has been a great experience, and I have learned a lot. Here is the main thing that I have learned about teaching: students are a pain in the ass.

Never trust the students! I learned this the hard way. I was covering a class the day before March break, and a student who walked in late (red flag!) asked if he could skip and go pack instead of doing the worksheet in class. I was unsure, and (stupidly) said it was okay. Marked him present on the attendance, and didn't think anything more of it. A couple minutes later, I get a call from the attendance office, asking if I knew where that particular student was. I admitted to letting him go pack, and was informed that he was just spotted walking down the hall chatting with some girls. I got chewed out a bit for that. Sadly, I didn't remember his name, so I was not able to track him down and yell at him later.

Another time, I emailed a student to remind him about an extra tutoring session that we had scheduled. In the email, I accidentally said that the time of the session was an hour later than we had originally said. I emailed him again, once I realized, to correct the previous email, but as he never responded to either email I didn't know what time he would think our session was. So I go to the library for 6, he doesn't show up. I figure he missed the second email, and will be showing up for 7. I hang out for an hour, and by 7:15 I decide he's not showing up and leave. I send him an email letting him know that he missed his tutoring session, and he replies later, saying that he was there for 7 and didn't get my second email correcting the time. I called him out for lying, since I was there at 7, and he had no response for me. Since apparently the students aren't held accountable for missing tutoring sessions, nothing came of it.

The biggest thing that makes me mad about students is that some (not all) show zero motivation to understand what's going on in class. I had one student who stopped me mid-explanation and told me that he didn't care about the explanation of something and all he wanted was the formula. Then he was angry when I told him that he would be expected to know how to derive the formula on a test.

Teaching is frustrating when you look out into the class and see a mix of blank stares and sleeping faces looking back at your (or not, as the case may be). Sure, every student should not be expected to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for every single class. Hell, I don't always pay full attention in my university classes. But from the other side, it does not cease to be frustrating. Here I am, standing at the front of class with the sole intent of getting these students motivated and learning to prepare them for their futures, and all I get in return is blank stares.

I don't just want students to be able to find answers to questions - I want them to understand the question, to understand the process of finding the answer, and understand what the answer is and what it means. I know very well that most of these students only take math because they have to, and most won't continue with it through university. But the skill of knowing how to solve and approach analytical problems is important and applicable to any professional setting. All I want is for these students to learn, but all they want is to get a good grade with minimal effort.

That being said, it is a glorious moment when a student finally understands something that has been eluding them. No matter how apathetic that student is, his or her face lights up and even if it is just for a fraction of a moment, they are excited to have figured something out. That fraction of a moment - that tiny millisecond that we teachers hope to multiply into a love of learning - makes all the other crap we have to put up with worth it and it is why I love teaching.