I'm sure teachers dream of the perfect student, but we students rarely demand straight A's of our teachers. For us, the notion of perfection doesn't exist. Some teachers are outstanding and obviously love their work. They motivate us, and through them we learn to not only master the material they present but also to love learning. These are the people who make school fun and with whom we may stay in touch for the rest of our lives.
Then there are the others. A painful few educators regularly appear bored with their subject material, lecture constantly instead of engaging students in intellectual conversation, or even seem to specialize in classroom put-downs. A friend of mine at another school, for instance, spends part of each day with a teacher who constantly shouts "Shut up!" at the class. The teachers at this end of the spectrum can be a huge problem, since even hardworking students who face ineffective instruction can end up unhappy in school and incapable of getting much out of their relatively short time in the classroom. True, some students are hard for even the best teachers to reach, but for kids who are serious about their education, dealing with a mediocre teacher is nothing short of a survival skill.
We students actually have the power to overcome ineffective teaching. Trouble is, most of us don't realize it. Even when we understand that we can and should make a bad teaching situation better, we are usually afraid to try. We may be worried about compromising a teacher's position or being seen as a snitch.
When I find myself stuck with a problematic teacher, I first try to communicate my frustration directly to him or her. Given all the pressures of our day, both teachers and students can lose sight of the importance of effective communication. There isn't anything wrong with a student talking to a teacher about problems in the classroom, but a lot depends on how you approach the matter. For example, talking with a teacher about classroom manner or methods while other students are present can make matters worse. It may seem like a public challenge to the teacher's intelligence and authority.
But sometimes communicating about a problem is not enough to solve it. No matter how tactful a student is, getting a teacher to change his or her style may not work. In that case, it's time for school administrators and families to get involved. Students have to get past the idea that they are being a snitch. If we tune out the material in a course because we hate the way it's delivered, we can miss out on information that may affect our future. To facilitate discussion, both administrators and families ought to privately ask students regularly how their classes are going. Ask us for specifics rather than generalities. Query us about specific topics and instructors instead of asking an open-ended "How's it going?" This lets us know we have the support of other adults with the power to influence change.
It's incredibly frustrating to feel that nothing is being done, or will be done, to put an end to bleak teaching, and that we students are powerless to make change happen. But that doesn't have to be the case. When it comes down to it, there are many more students than teachers in any school. Our collective voice can be loud, so we should be listened to. We can influence change. After all, where would teachers be without us?
Bernice Fedestin, a senior at Brighton High School in Boston, was featured as one of "The Daring Dozen" in our November/December issue. She received a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to produce a documentary about the curriculum disparity between suburban and inner-city schools. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.