Wednesday, December 7, 2016

In praise of Sophomores

First thing, they aren't freshmen. That's a huge plus.

But on another note, a bit of context. I have cold. I feel OK but my throat has been scratchy and in pain and I have pretty much lost my voice. That presents me with certain problems and limitations. I'm a teacher and speaking to classes is sort of the center of my daily activities. That doesn't mean that I don't know how to assign busy work to keep the students at their seats, or that I don't occasionally cancel class when I can't teach, but my stock in trade is conversation -- engaging with the young people and exploring ideas.

Without a voice that is more difficult. Not impossible, but more of a challenge. So I met that challenge for the first half of class and then I was beat. Straining my throat makes me tired so I told my students that they could use the balance of class to work on their group project which has them isolate a problem in the world, research charities which deal with that problem, judge the charities and make a recommendation as to which one should receive their donations.

In case you are wondering, this does 3 things:

1. Shows them the religiously important concept of charity as a driving force in their lives, even in an apparently secular studies class
2. Prepares them for the real world experience of identifying problems, analyzing data and making recommendations
3. Gives them practice in research and data collection and evaluation

It also gets them working in a group, distributing responsibilities and following a process, step-by-step to build ideas, so there's that.

But I let them work. And do you know what happened? They quietly moved to sit and chat with their group members. I didn't cajole or yell. I didn't have to remind them.

Again -- a bunch of 15 year-olds, under no penalty other than that a teacher might get annoyed, start doing work and, as of 10 minutes later, are still working, many quietly, some conferring with other class members. I did not teach them this. I can not claim credit for the fact that they are not yelling, running around, leaving the room or otherwise misbehaving. There is an undercurrent of morality, of conscience and of respect that they have that predates my class.

So I, publicly, thank them, their parents, their families, their communities and all the other influences who handed off to me a bunch of well behaved, hard working, god, good kids. You should all be proud. The next generation is not doomed if it is populated by people like this. I just wanted to tell someone, so I told you. Not enough people point out the good stuff and my class, right now, is the good stuff.