December 09, 2005

School is supposed to be fun?

Yes, school is suppose to be fun. The more fun you have teaching, the more fun the students will have learning. There is nothing more miserable than sitting for 55 minutes desperately trying to pay attention to a miserable lecture proffered by a miserable instructor who is clearly disengaged from the subject and lacks all compassion for his or her students. It’s no wonder kids fall asleep in class. We used to call it the “Gurst” position.

Mr. Gurst was my freshman and senior year English teacher. He was a brilliant writer, but a boring orator. He literarily spoke in a monotone all the time. Now, Mr. Gurst was very influential in my young life. He rode his bicycle to school everyday. There was a time when I rode my bicycle to school everyday. Very cool. But Mr. Gurst liked to read to his English classes. When he did, it was all any of us could do to stay awake. It was brutal. Imagine Great Expectations read for an hour daily by Ben Stein. Pretty close comparison. So as a means of survival, we developed a way of looking like we were paying attention, when really we were out cold. We would place our elbows on the desk, point our palms straight up, and rest our cheeks upon them. See, in this position, the Gurst position, the instructor cannot see the pupils eyeballs. Therefore, we were able to look like we were engrossed in Dickens, when really, we were dreaming of skateboarding and burgers at In-N-Out. We got away with the Gurst position for a very long time. Until one day we were exposed. One of us (me) was caught drooling on the novel. That was the end of the Gurst position at my high school. But the Gurst position lives on where I teach now. I’ve taught it my students as a survival mechanism for their duller courses.

But none of our courses should be dull to anyone. If we love teaching then we should love every moment we spend teaching. You know when a lesson isn’t working. I know when kids tune me out. I hate it. Headphones drive me crazy and I don’t allow my students to wear them in the classroom. Once the headphones are on, the world is tuned out. We cannot let our students tune us out. So what do we do? If you are a teacher who often finds their students with their headphones on, or assuming the "Gurst" position, then it’s time to freshen up your shtick.

If no one has told you so far, it’s ok to have fun in your classroom. Think back to your own favorite K-12 teachers and classes. I will bet that the ones you remember most are the ones where the teacher was passionate about teaching. The subject was exciting and every new idea you had was cherished. You had fun. Do you have fun in your classroom now? Do you laugh with your students? Do you share your life’s experiences with the young, hungry minds of those entrusted to your care? You should.

Many English teachers agree that English is not the most entertaining subject to teach. Literature and writing can be a blast, but parts of speech and sentence structure, well. Sometimes the teacher needs to be very, very creative. But English is not nearly as dry as say Mathematics. I’m not a math teacher. But I have taken classes from math teachers who made math fun and exciting. My favorite high school math teacher was a man named Jim Costello. Jim had a way with teaching math. He could not only break math down into VERY manageable bite-size pieces, but he could also hook us into the daily subject matter through humor. His class was always fun, and I loved going. I haven’t loved math as much since.

Jim found a way to make his class fun, interesting, and most importantly, engaging. What do you do to engage your students and make your class fun? Do you try at all? Many teachers don’t. They just leave it up to the students to figure out. These are the same “educators” who regularly fail 50% of their students. Happens way too often in education today. I have had colleagues who approached the classroom in this manner. Fortunately few of them are still teaching. Teaching is hard enough without hating the classroom. If you hate the classroom, then chances are, your students hate you.

Don’t take that personally. You’re just not fun enough.

But you could be. You need to be. Entertainer is never listed in the job description. But whether you want to or not, whether you like it or not, if you are a teacher, you are an entertainer. Twenty four-seven our students are being entertained. Through television, the Internet, cell phones, iPods, magazines, and film, entertainment is the name of the game. If it doesn’t make me laugh, I’m not interested. If it doesn’t shock, I don’t care. Look at the way modern sitcoms are written; a laugh every ten seconds, and sometimes even more. The “one-liner” has been refined to an art. Attention spans run very short these days. So to expect any child of any age to sit and listen for any period of time is fighting against the wind. We can’t win this war. So if you can’t beat them….

DON’T join them. Strive to learn, understand, and master the “rules of engagement.” Structure your lesson plans and arrange your classroom to invite and entice your students to LEARN! We don’t all consider ourselves to be “dynamic in the classroom.” You don’t have to be a dynamo, but you do have to be invested. Kids know when we care, and when we don’t. When they know we care they can be very forgiving if things don’t always go the way we plan. But if we don’t care about the time we spend with our students neither will they, and that’s no fun at all.

For further discussion please check out this post.

Please post your comments below.


  1. How can a teacher motivate a youngster to practice for the SAT,
    please? As a tutor I am not making much headway.

  2. YES!! This should be branded on the head of every teacher - backwards, of course, so that they can read it when they look in the mirror.

    L. Swilley

  3. Anne said... How can a teacher motivate a youngster to practice for the SAT, please?

    One of the things I point out to student is that the SAT counts for a third or more of college admissions just a little under GPA. Then I point out that it takes thousands of hours to create a GPA, and several hundreds of hours to change your GPA, while you can prepare for the SAT in about 80 hours spread over a month or two.

    Secondly I find that many students think that the SAT is a test that you can't prepare for or that it is tough. I then point out that the most advanced math is basic algebra, and almost every math problem can be solved using arithmetic. The key to doing well is understanding the question which takes a little bit of retraining to translate thequestions.

    I hope this helps,

    Stephen Caperton
    Assistant Coach
    RHS Speech & Debate