Saturday, April 01, 2000

Students put things into perspective

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        How could I have overlooked it, in an election year for pity's sake? Everybody deserves equal time.

        A few weeks back I wrote two columns that still are drawing comment.

        The first had to do with what parents love and hate about teachers; the second, what teachers love and hate about parents.

        Then the mail started rolling in from students, including bulk deliveries from Diane Jennings' literature classes at Sycamore High School.

        As one clear-thinking teen-ager wrote, “Aren't we, after all, the point?”

        Quite so.

        As a parent and former teacher, I found the students' comments thought-provoking and sometimes poignant.

        This was a safe place to be honest, and they took full advantage of it.

        So here's what they think:

        First, they think they fail us. “When teachers and parents tell us that we don't care any more, they're right,” wrote one senior.

        “But guess why we don't care about anything? The constant pressure and nagging from both parties builds up, and after a while we feel we are complete failures because we can't live up to anyone's expectations. So we give up.”

        He signed his letter, “A senior who lost the will to care freshman year.”

        Another student wrote simply, “What I hate about teachers/parents: How someone is always upset or disappointed with me.”

        Adults simply expect too much, the teen-agers say.

        Parents want high grades, domestic chores and “well-roundedness.”

        Teachers want long-term and short-term projects, classroom “engagement,” and homework loads the kids say they can't handle.

        With after-school jobs, sports and extracurriculars, the pressures become overwhelming.

        “Stress is abundantly higher now because of the pressure parents and teachers place upon us,” one student wrote.

        “Will both groups realize that students are only human? We are not your last chance to live up to what you wish you were as kids.”

        Another student wrote that, by high school, “cheating and not sleeping are the only ways to survive.”

        It is no surprise, then, that one of the things students love most is adults who take time to listen, who consider the demands placed on students, and who get to know them as people, not just achievers.

        They like teachers who “leave the podium to join the class,” give second chances, are at least occasionally flexible about deadlines and (sorry but it's true) make learning fun.

        “The greatest teacher I ever had made me like chemistry — chemistry —,” wrote one student. “We like teachers who can work such miracles.”

        What they hate at school: busy work (that was unanimous). Lectures. Lectures in a monotone. Public ridicule. Teachers who appear bored with their work.

        What they hate at home: nagging. Inquisitions about where, when and with whom. And especially parents who don't know little things, like what classes their children are taking, their teachers' names, or what sports the kids are playing.

        What they want Mom and Dad to know: “We love you. We really do,” wrote one student.

        “Yeah, we're constantly screwing up. No secret there. But deep inside every student is a desire to please you two. Encourage that in an environment of love, and you will see just what we can do.”

        That one is taped to my refrigerator. I hope to keep it in mind forever.


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