The 2014-2015 academic year marks my 18th consecutive year of schooling. Over the last two years, I've developed a horrible case of "senoritis," which, according to Wikipedia is "a colloquial term mainly used in the United States and Canada to describe the decreased motivation toward studies displayed by students who are nearing the end of their high school, college, and graduate school careers." (Preach Wikipedia, preach). Three years ago, you would never have caught me skipping classes, using my cell phone in class, or sitting in... you guessed it - the nosebleed section. On one hand, I absolutely cannot wait to be out of school and teaching in my own classroom. On the other hand, it freaks me to think that I will eventually touch the lives and underdeveloped mind of hundreds of children to come, children who will eventually grow up to become the future leaders of their generation.
Ever since popularized videos like Suli Breaks' spoken word poem on"Why I Hate School But Love Education" and Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk on "How Schools Kill Creativity" I've begun to question everything. At first it was a very cynical, and unhealthy type of questioning that gave me fuel to justify the "senoritis" I was feeling. I have been a very successful student all my life, and that's because I've learned to navigate the system. When it comes to skills like memorization, test-writing, and exam-preparation, I am an expert in my field. Eventually, this made me feel inadequate and ill-prepared for life in the Real World. I wondered what life would have been like if I had been exposed to the same kind of education that Logan LaPlante calls "Hackschooling." The more people I met and spoke to about the crisis around schools, the more I realized that the school system I have loved all my life was failing people all over the country. School - which gave me my friends, my hobbies, my love for learning... was starting more and more to resemble the factories they once were.
"There are three things you need to remember as a teacher, " Bev Kokerus said in a recent workshop on occasional teaching at the Faculty of Education. "The first is be memorable. The second is to find the positives. If there are none, turn the negatives into a positive. And last is to take care of yourself and your family." I needed to find the positives again. Once I began to do some soul searching, it wasn't that hard.
The first question to ask myself was why I am here? I'm here because I want to be. I think back to my first few weeks at Queen's and how it was absolutely enchanting. As I delved deeper into my studies the beautiful scenery faded into the background and I began to take all the little things for granted. I stopped noticing how pretty the trees looked against the bright blue sky every morning, how incredibly serene the sunrise overlooking the lake was, how calming the quiet hum inside Douglas library could be... I wasn't alone in this process. The effects of senioritis were widespread, and as we entered our fifth year of university many of my colleagues and I had stopped noticing our surroundings entirely. Get good grades, get a job, pass that course... no wonder school had begun to look so bleak!
Occasionally, I will find myself falling back into that predictable slump I try so hard to avoid. Turn the negatives into a positive. Okay, so I admit I have met some people in my young life who were never meant for school. I also know people who never had the opportunity to have an education - and I know how powerful schooling can be in a person's life. Perhaps, my initial disillusionment and perhaps overly optimistic perception of schools had not been in vain. Yes, senioritis is very real, but I also know that I am lucky to be here. And yes, schooling and the education system as it exists today can still be crappy, but need to reframe my thinking and see this as a challenge rather than permanent flaw. While it is important to stay curious, we also need develop a healthy ways to question the world (that doesn't turn you into a pessimist). School can still be that fun, magical place where learning takes place and I can keep my starry-eyed optimism about the world. It is now my mission as an educator to help students see it that way too.
International math educator who writes, occasionally.