I’m Not a Lazy Teacher!

I recently read a blog post by a student named Justin Strudler that has me really fired up!  In his post he explains that he thinks most students would rather be sick than go to school because they hate it so much; he then implies that many people discredit this attitude as laziness on the students’ part and calls for change in the educational system.

I’m not opposed to change at all, but I want to set the record straight on several things:

1.  I have not once cancelled a class because I was ill.  I will go into class and teach my heart out every day because I love my students and I love what I do.  Some may argue that it’s my own fault for not taking a day off to recover if I’m sick.  However, the truth of the matter is that whenever I have taken a day off of school for anything, it has been more work than it’s worth – I have to plan in advance to find a substitute, I have to write a lesson plan for the substitute, and when I come back from my day off, I have to do damage control to try to fill in the gaps that the substitute missed and I have to grade the backlog of papers that were collected by the substitute in my absence.  And by the time I am caught up with everything that happened in my absence, it’s just about time for me to take another day off.  This is a vicious cycle and it’s not worth it to me, especially just for a day off because I’m sick.  This is why I don’t ever cancel class simply because I am sick.

2.  Teachers are truly overworked.  Teachers do more than teach – outside of class I have e-mails to respond to, phone calls to make, meetings to attend, lessons to prepare, and papers to grade.  Teaching is a 24/7 job.  I try my best to prioritize and sometimes I fall short.  However, I know that I am not a lazy teacher and that I am making a difference in my students’ lives on a daily basis.  What students need to understand is that teachers know that the educational system is broken.  Teachers know that the system needs to be changed.  Teachers are trying to change the system.  However, changing a system as large as the educational system takes time.  I can already see many of the changes that have occurred since I’ve graduated high school myself.  For example, when I learned Algebra, I was given a page of 130 equations at a time to solve and I had to do that same worksheet every day until I got all of the problems correct.  A teacher wouldn’t dare do that today!  But in order to initiate change, I have to have the energy to initiate change, and many times all of these things that overwork me drain the energy right out of me.  This eventually turns into students calling me a lazy teacher and complaining that I’m not grading their papers fast enough, among other things.  But here’s the deal – just as students don’t like to be called lazy, teachers don’t like to be called lazy, either.  If you are a student who wants change, please recognize teachers for the work that they have done toward trying to make changes so far instead of simply complaining that more changes need to be made.

3.  I understand that math is difficult for many people.  Every semester I have a student, who tells me that math is their hardest subject, but they are trying their hardest and they don’t understand why their grade is so low.  Unfortunately, these are usually the students who I know are not trying very hard and are not living up to their full potential.  However, I have not once called any of my students lazy – and shame on any teacher who has called a student lazy.  The conversation usually goes like this: “So, what are you doing to try to improve your grade?”  “I’m going to tutoring a few hours a week and I’m trying my best to pay attention in class and do the homework.”  At this point I usually point out to the student that a few hours of tutoring a week is not an effective solution and that they need to come to my office hours, e-mail me throughout the week with any questions they may have if they get stuck, and try to form a study group with other student s in the class, among other things.  I actually have a list of 10 suggestions of things that students can do every week if they want help in the class that is on the front page of the syllabus, but most students don’t take it seriously on day 1 of the class and quickly forget about my suggestions since they don’t necessarily feel as if they need help from right from the beginning of the class.

I also point out to the student that not only does their behavior outside of class need to change, but their behavior in class needs to change as well – they need to start asking questions, they need to change where they are sitting in the class so that they are sitting by a different group of people, they need to stop using their phone in class, etc.  I tell the student that sometimes the only way the environment is going to change for them is if they take control and change it themselves.  See, everything isn’t just about how the educational system can be changed; it’s also about how students view the educational system.  If students view the educational system as something that they hate, of course they are going to hate it!

In the end, what I’ve learned from calling my low-performing students out on their behavior is that many times no one has ever actually told them the steps that they could do to improve their grades.  It is true that many people discredit low-performing students as simply being lazy.  Instead, maybe we should take the opportunity to explain to students that although they may think they are trying hard, it doesn’t necessarily look as if they are doing so from the teacher’s perspective.  Most of my students generally end up turning things around and often become some of the higher-performing students in the class and come back to thank me later for giving them guidance and making it such a great semester for them.  I have even had several students who started liking math so much that they’ve taken additional math courses from me, ‘just for fun!’

My point is that I’m not a lazy teacher.  I understand that that educational system is not working, but I am working every day toward making change.  And I get very angry when I hear students say that they hate school, but they don’t necessarily want to propose that they do anything to help toward the change themselves.