Learning is Fun! (Or, Not)
Yesterday I choked at my violin recital. My teacher introduced me to the tiny audience, counted off, a-one and a-two, we started to play “The Road to Boston” and it was all going fine until! we got onto the second line of the music and I lost it. Didn’t know where we were or how to get back or anything. It was as though I had never even seen that music before. My teacher played through her part and then walked me off the stage. She didn’t say a lot about it but I knew I had embarrassed her, if not myself. She’s my teacher and my choking made her look bad.
I’d like to say it wasn’t my fault! Something went wrong! It was out of my control! But the truth is, I didn’t practice.
I just didn’t practice.
I didn’t practice because it’s hard work. I don’t play very well and I hate hearing all those sour notes, having to start over and over and over, and I really hate it when I can’t even recognize the song I’m supposed to be playing because my timing is off. When I DO practice, even for just a half hour a day, it’s amazing how sweet the little songs sound and I love it. I go up to my mom’s house and play for her and I call people up to play over the phone and really make a fool of myself but it feels good. It takes lots of irritating, annoying, hard practice. I hate it, but I love the results. And then I don’t choke in front of people. Practicing is not fun. But it’s worth it.
I teach English to high school juniors. I was teaching grammar the other day, a subject with rules that you just have to practice, there’s no other way. The rules are convoluted and there is always an exception but they’re necessary. I want my students to write properly, not to embarrass themselves when they go to college or work and have to write something. It’s dry and it’s boring but mostly, the kids will at least go along with it. But not Jeremy. You know him. The one that powers through everything in the blink of an eye, will not revisit it, and insists the iPhone is a natural human appendage. Jeremy would not place a comma in a list even when I pointed out he had just copied down the rule because, he said, he never learned it. Well, there it is, Jeremy! We’re learning it now!
“You’re not making learning fun,” he said. Fun. If practicing were fun, I’d play the violin like Mozart by now. Some things are just not fun, but it doesn’t make them any less valuable or necessary. I mean, how many times did you have fun learning to balance your checkbook? Or analyzing your phone bill? Or solving for x? Or determining the causes of World War I? Learning to walk is more painful than fun, but everyone needs to do it.
Most days, I believe I offer lessons and activities that are linked to my children’s social studies class, their own lives, and the issues in the community at large. Gender roles. Marriage. Work. Gun ownership. Today the lesson plan included watching a YouTube video of kids around the world doing the “accent tag” in preparation for reading Their Eyes Were Watching God. We had a professional actress here that talked with us about dialect, and gave a dramatic reading while Halle Berry moved, muted, across the TV screen. No fun at all, I guess. Teachers do the best they can, but I don’t think it’s possible to make all learning fun. Are students entitled to have fun in every class every day? How did they get that idea? Are we nuts to expect that students should learn even the boring things? What are some of the “fun” ways that you teach stuff that would usually be boring? All of us un-fun teachers are dying to know!