High school is said to encompass the worst years of a person’s life; whether this is true differs according to the individual. Part of what makes a person’s experience good or bad is the name of the teachers that appear on every student’s schedule of the beginning of each year. When a student enters high school, their bodies and brains are still developing. How they are treated during their education can change their entire view on the education system, as well as life.
Involvement and communication is vital to a class’s education. “They’re the ones learning it,” says Elle Wilder-Tack, a senior English teacher at Franklin High School. Wilder holds “Class Meetings” after every unit in order to get feedback and hear the thoughts of her students. Wilder came to realize through time that there is an inherent power dynamic in a classroom, and as a result students to do not always feel free to express their concerns. Class meetings attempt to lessen this intimidation. She believes it is both harder for the teacher to do their job and harder for students to learn when they are not able to have a say in the classroom, but when it becomes disruptive for the teacher to accommodate these grievances, it is no longer helpful to anyone.
Some students believe a classroom with a set structure and a firm hand can also be effective. Lucy Walker (12) is one of these students. Walker is an Advanced Placement student balancing several extra-curriculars with her five AP classes. “I learn best when I get the opportunity to do the work myself.” She believes that in some cases if a classroom is too comfortable, it can become disorderly. “I don’t like to feel like my time is being wasted…feel disrespected when there’s no plan.” However, there is a solution: Walker believes that student involvement can be helpful as long as it is regulated; she cites Wilder’s class meetings as an example of well structured and effective execution of class involvement. As long as the class structure is solid, hearing the voices and opinions of the students will help the teacher know what they need in order to learn, but if the entire classroom is run as a democracy, then students might ere on the side of unproductivity. As Wilder says, “A lot of times students’ get too comfortable and they forget that we need to have a structure.” If students behavior is not firmly corrected, who is to say it will be corrected at all? Without structure and regulation, there is no work being done. “I don’t get mad when a teacher has a strict structure … I have heard a classroom described as a benevolent dictatorship, and I agree with that,” says Walker.
While it is helpful for all students to be able to address their preferences and grievances, it is vital for some. It is easier for some to work alone, and is impossible for others. Sadie Owens (12) was diagnosed with ADHD as well as a memory disorder, and as a result she has accommodations given to her in the classroom. In her experience, teachers with a strict class structure will not make an effort to understand her. “[Very structured] classroom environments are often times less understanding because a lot of times [the teachers] are a little more neurotypical and are very much like ‘this is how my brain functions’.”
Wilder agrees that are circumstances which require communication. “Especially when we talk about the achievement gap, students of color in particular have to trust their teachers. One of the things I’ve discovered is that white students, because I’m white, will trust me until I give them a reason not to, but students of color often don’t trust me until I give them a reason to.” Some students need more help than others. No teacher should be depriving any student of this assistance.
One of the greatest problems with not listening to students is that it creates a lack of respect on both sides of the relationship. This disrespect then creates resentment. “Students don’t learn from people they don’t respect, and that they don’t feel like respect them in turn,” Wilder says. It poisons the relationship so that the student no longer feels comfortable approaching the teacher in times of need, and continues to fail. Wilder agrees, saying maybe a firm approach would work in a private school, but in public school a teacher creating a strong distance does not help students correct behavior, it only discourages them.
High schoolers are children. They are still developing a view on the world. If the experiences they have in school make them frightened, they might resent education permanently. Listening to student concerns and creating accommodations is not only helpful, but a necessity. Some kids see their teachers more than they see their parents.