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  • Writer's pictureDerek Stoppels

Why's it always gotta be about academics?!

Seriously. Why does it always have to be about academics? School is obviously a place where students come to learn, but why does it always have to be about academics?! Why does it always have to be about "book learnin'"? I find so many teachers worry SO much about the curriculum that they never really take time to get to know their students. Do you know a little fact about each kid in your class that has nothing to do with school?! What sports do they play? What music do they listen to? What food do they like? What do their parents do?

I start each period by asking my students: What questions do you have for me?

And they can ask me anything...and they do! It's not always about science, or the things we're learning about in class, but it's often about things that are important to them. It allows me an opportunity to ask them questions about the questions they are asking me. "Sir, what's your favorite food?" "Pizza! What's yours?!" and BOOM! I know something about my students and a relationship starts to form.

Now kids (I think) like coming to my class. Maybe they don't love science...but they love coming to my class...that's a win.

If you think that school is all about academics, I'm going to say that you're wrong. I hate telling people, especially adults that they're wrong about things, because I know it's a bad way to make friends, but if you're a teenager in high school, it's not all about academics. My job as a teacher to to teach science, sure, but more importantly, it's to teach teenagers. And to reach teenagers. Expecting every student to be able to show up, sit in their seat, take notes, raise their hand to ask for help, is simply unrealistic! When a kid is making noise in your classroom, banging on his desk, yawning out loud, playing with lab equipment when you're not doing a lab, that student is trying to tell you something. Read the book Lost at School by Dr. Ross Greene, and in it he says that students do well if they can. People don't wake up in the morning and say "I want to be a jerk today" (my words, not Dr. Greene's). If a student is acting out, it's because he lacks a skill that is necessary to be successful. Not everyone has the vocabulary to talk about their challenges, so they act out.

Understanding that a student's behaviour is a way of communicating will really help reduce your classroom management challenges. And when classroom management challenges are reduced, learning and participation increases.

I'm so lucky, and thankful, to have the opportunity to try a few things out in my classrooms, and I've been able to set up my grade 9 and 10 science classes in a way that while the students are using the curriculum, I'm also able to walk around my classroom and help them out by meeting them where they are, and finding different ways to get to my students.

If the focus is on academics, it's not on the students.

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