There is a problem that frequently occurs within the academic setting, a schism between student and teacher that at once seems ridiculous and insurmountable. It's that age old struggle, where the teacher and the student regard each other as rivals, turning the classroom into a battle of wills. I say this is ridiculous because this animosity is largely superfluous, subconscious, and self destructive. I call it insurmountable because, in spite of its ridiculous nature, the rivalry persists.
Whether trained by cultural precedent or prompted by some contentious instinct, the rivalry between student and teacher persists, and is occasionally taken to literal extremes. A student may actively seek to disrupt the classroom, fail at assignments, or otherwise work to frustrate the teacher, and feel that any success in these endeavors is a victory. Likewise, a teacher may force all of his or her students into lockstep compliance with the day's activities. Either scenario perpetuates the rivalry, generating what are often referred to as "bad experiences". How many students are turned off from a subject because of a "bad experience" with a particular teacher? How many teachers revoke their benefit of the doubt because some student causes a "bad experience" for them? How many of these "bad experiences" can be avoided if one or both parties take a step back and look at what's really supposed to happen in the classroom?
Because I've seen the opposite be true as well. I've known teachers who don't allow a student's antics to sway them from maintaining a healthy learning environment, and I've known students who have thrived in a class despite difficulties with a teacher. So it seems that, for some at least, this problem isn’t wholly insurmountable. The question then is how to prevent or avoid the rivalries in one’s own classroom, and I don’t think there’s a simple, one-size-fits-all answer.
My experience in this class has been somewhat unique, mostly because I was the only English major in the classroom, and therefore much of my education has centered on literacy in the classroom. As a result, I paid a lot of attention to considerations many of my classmates had about how literacy might play a role in their classrooms. Looking back on the class, I think the most important thing I’ve learned is the necessity to avoid the rivalries and schisms between students and teachers that I have been talking about. As teachers, our role is to build a bridge between what our students need to learn to grow and develop and what they already understand. We can’t fall into the trap of an adversarial relationship with our students, and use techniques that help them activate their natural desire for knowledge.
Because everybody has a desire for knowledge. The student who raises his hand to ask when he’ll ever use math in his life will often go off with friends and talk about the finer points of sports statistics. The student who can’t find any value in the literary analysis of a character or a plot point can talk for hours about the comings, goings, and fashion choices of the heartthrob du jour. A student who thinks chemistry class is pointless just might go home to manage a meth lab.
My point is that we live in the Information Age, and students instinctively understand that in order to survive within the zeitgeist they must find their niches, even if that niche involves intentional marginalization from the mainstream. We need to show our students that, whatever their dream, they can achieve it, and that the things we have to teach them—regardless of content area—are important for the level of critical thinking they will need to find not just survival, but success.