“I am going to be an astronomer AND a marine biologist.”
“ I would like to do something in art or fashion.”
“ I’m gonna be on Youtube!”
Okay, young squire, what will you DO on Youtube?
“I’m just going to be on there and make a million dollars!”
“ I get it. But what will be in your videos? Are you going to sing or dance, or present a makeup tutorial?”
“ A what?”
“ Never mind.”
“I’m just going to be on there and –”
“-and make a million dollars. I heard you the first time. Good for you.”
This is not the conversation verbatim, but it is mighty close. Students have all kinds of future plans lolloping through their heads at any given time. It varies a bit in the details, but the major themes remain. At first, I tried to use logic with my friends who want to be on Youtube and explain that you did, indeed, need to select an activity for your video. You could not simply show up and get a million followers. Not unless you were a Kardashian. I made no headway whatsoever. These kids remain fixed in their belief that the point was simply getting onto Youtube and what they did when they got there was completely irrelevant.
I want to talk a minute about dreams in general. Lately, dreams have taken a back seat to survival. We have been using every spare brain cell simply to complete basic functions: get up, bathe our bodies, go to work, cook meals for ourselves and our people (or order takeout or delivery or whatever we can manage), drag ourselves to bed, and then start over the next morning, the epitome of a grind. Dreams don’t enter the picture, even while we are asleep.
My husband and I always enjoy sharing our stress dreams when we get up in the morning. We have different themes, but the dreams themselves are always bizarre beyond belief. Sometimes we wake up disoriented, within our new stress-induced reality. This morning, in fact, I had to double-check to make sure I recognized the guy in bed with me since he did not match the guy in my dream. My actual husband was not crazy about this scenario. He was a bit offended, actually. Like, what the actual heck?
Dude, I don’t make this shit up. It’s my subconscious on steroids.
In my dreams, no one wants to be my friend. My husband of 35 years decides that he would prefer to be married to someone else for some reason. I am lonely and confused about where I belong in the world (in the dream) and so I wake up stressed, all of the muscles in my body tense, and often with a splitting headache that takes two cups of coffee to chase away. Bleary-eyed, I shuffle into the bathroom and attempt to have one positive thought about anything.
As I sit in my morning chair with coffee, I settle into my Calm app daily meditation and allow everything to relax and sink. I am a good direction-follower and so when the lady tells me to systematically relax and let go as I follow the breath, I do it. For at least three or four minutes of my ten-minute sessions, my to-do list rises up and threatens to hijack whatever Calm I have achieved so far. The narrator anticipates this and suggests that I just say silently to myself, “Thinking, thinking.” and wait for the distraction to pass. Sometimes this works. I especially like it when she reminds me to picture the thought floating peacefully down the river and letting it drift away after noticing it. G’bye thought!
Back to dreams. So much of our time in teaching is based on goals, objectives, stated outcomes, and learning targets. We are held accountable for student learning. The other day, I had a meeting with my principal, to talk about what I would teach on the day of my observation. We talked about the four questions on the observation guidelines:
What things do we want students to learn?
How will we teach those things?
How will we know if students have learned these things?
What are we going to do if students have NOT learned these things?
I chuckle because this is pretty basic and yet we make it so complicated. We are sure that there are magic words and special ways of answering these questions that are going to guarantee student learning. There are not. There are just various ways of doing our best , managing and adjusting expectations as we go. How does this process lend itself to talking to kids about their dreams, and how to get from where they are to NASA or Hollywood? Not especially well, I have to say. It gave me a glimpse into how disconnected the people that invented the questions might be from actual children. If it were me, I might tweak the questions (and the answers) in the following way:
What do students want and need to learn in order to flourish?
Together, how will we figure out how to facilitate their learning?
How can we collaborate to assess where they are in the process?
How will we course correct when we find we are not going in the best direction for student-based outcomes?
See what I did there? I turned it around to include students AND teachers. I made learning a collaboration, a shared project, a common purpose rather than a list of what I am going to teach them and how they are going to learn it. I have been a teacher for a long time (35 years, give or take) and I have yet to teach a student something that they did not want to learn, at least on some level. My background in homeschooling my own three children taught me that I could be the best teacher in the world with all the newest methods, practices, and strategies at my fingertips but, if my kids were not developmentally equipped or had no sense of agency in their learning, the lesson was doomed.
Abort the mission! Go directly to jail! Do not pass Go, do not collect $200! It did not matter how in love with my own approach I was, if students had no buy-in, we had no learning. Period, end of sentence. Rewind that videotape of “Lion King”, because today’s teaching time was over.
So how to encourage agency? How do I infuse learning with hope and joy, and connect it to my students’ most impractical career dreams? How can I somehow parlay my lesson on grammar into a viable career on Youtube? The truth is, I can’t always do this. However, it is always my goal and part of my lesson planning (if you can call it that) when I teach. If there is no heart connection to what I am asking them to do, it will be far more difficult and tedious for them to do it, right? So if my ultimate goal is for them to learn about nouns, verbs, and adjectives, then sometimes we have to make some deals in the process.
“If you highlight all the nouns in the first paragraph and count them, that is five bonus student points.”
“ If you had to create a storyboard for your movie idea, what would it look like? (At least a five-minute tangent talking and arguing and drawing.)
“ What is wrong with this “classic” fairy tale?” ( So many things.)
You get the idea. It has to connect to their mind, their opinions, and their obsessions or it just won’t stick. My class has had some great conversations about my weird affection for grammar. How the English language is so confusing and contradictory, how is anyone expected to keep it straight and why would they care? Why does Mrs. Baldwin care? Is she just weird? Possibly. However, you cannot argue with my passion for a carefully and lovingly placed prepositional phrase. I like what I like and so do they. Before you know it, they are connecting with their passions and their dreams. There is a connection, however chaotic, and it makes sense to them.
They can spot a noun at thirty paces. Learning objective, attained.
We live to dream another day.