The Uncomfortable Truth

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Some of us are fortunate enough to have had our lives built around comfort, and it’s great. Our homes full of appliances and sleep number beds, our cars replete with heated seats and 46 different buttons at arm’s length to control our environment, and even the breathable, adjustable clothes we wear have all been designed for the maximum amount of comfort possible in any surroundings. Even the word “comfortable” is slowly fading from our lexicon because of its propensity to be misspelled and the relative ease of the term “comfy.”

The downside to this is that with comfort comes ease. All of a sudden, it’s easy to come home and skip that workout that was planned, because air conditioning is more comfortable than 98-degree heat. It’s easy to ignore that miserable 5:00 AM alarm when encased in a warm down comforter. And the midnight tube of cookie dough that goes down so easily after a rough night has often been described as comfort food. However, in our ever-changing world of education, there is one word to describe those who are fully comfortable in their setting: ineffective.

This is 2018. There have been more changes to the learning model in the last 10 years than there were in the previous half century. The advent of the smartphone and the technology age have solidified the idea that student learning does not take place in the same way it used to. Teachers shouldn’t teach the same way they themselves learned, because young minds don’t work the same way anymore. The reason there are still teachers lecturing a class of high school students as if this were the 1950s is that it is comfortable. It is familiar. It is soothing. It feeds our need to always be in control of our environment. But it is also boring. It is unsuccessful. It is selfish. And it is a reminder that we aren’t really teaching anything if the students are not learning it.

Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I am not a perfect 21st century teacher who diversifies every lesson and has 100% student engagement every single day.

I’m a regular teacher who is constantly looking for the best way to reach a majority of students. I don’t always achieve this.

Some days I do stand in front of the class and communicate ideas verbally, as there is certainly a place for students being able to understand and process information in different ways. However, anyone who has ever tried to give a lecture on how clever the cobbler’s jokes are in the opening scene of Julius Caesar to a group of 15-year-olds can attest to the ineffectiveness of daily lectures in our current scholastic culture.

Urban Meyer, one of the greatest football coaches of our generation, has often cited the term “productive discomfort” to emphasize the need to grow as an individual and as a team in order to continue to achieve and maintain excellence. Winning isn’t easy or comfortable. Neither are most things which are deemed admirable or worthwhile by our society. Teaching certainly falls into this realm. If it were easy, anyone could do it. But it is not easy, unless we make it so by taking shortcuts and finding comfort in daily routines. That is why we must find growth in the discomfort that comes from trying new things and being open to different schools of thought.

So what are some things that can be done to avoid being too comfortable in the classroom? Here are a few cringe-worthy ideas for making your classroom stronger:

  1. Throw out some old materials. By no means do we need to burn all flash drives and file cabinets. But if a lesson is still being taught by a power point that was created using Windows 97, maybe it’s time to try a new approach.
  2. Invite outsiders into your classroom. Many teachers shudder at the thought of being watched by a coworker, superior, or even just a passerby. Let go of those fears, and realize that if others don’t need to see it, maybe you don’t need to do it.
  3. Adjust the setting. Take a class to a common or outdoor space. Switch classes for a day with someone on your team that has the same class period as you. Even rearranging desks makes a difference.
  4. Embrace the ideas of others. Instead of sitting through those summer sessions only to earn exchange day hours, find ways to incorporate those teachers’ ways into your repertoire through observation, conversation, or innovation. If you already have all the answers, it’s probably time to move on to a different job.
  5. Teach a new subject or grade level. English teachers are notoriously bad about this. So you climbed to the top of the food chain to teach AP English IV? Great job. Now give those silly sophomores a chance to learn from your infinite wisdom.
  6. Seek feedback from students. It’s amazing how honest and direct your students will be when you allow them to be. Ask them how lessons are going. Let them express their thoughts on the content of your class. Incorporate some of their ideas into their learning.
  7. Be true to yourself. This may be the toughest one on this list. Most of the ineffective teachers I have worked with have convinced themselves that because they do the bare minimum, they are doing their job. Because they are comfortable in what they do, they should keep doing it. But they know deep down that they are doing a disservice to the students, they simply don’t care enough to adjust what they do because it would put their own comfort at risk.

As teachers, we must be able to escape our comfort zones.

Let the classrooms be loud with the excited chatter of a meaningful and on-task class discussion. Let the students create their own learning experiences that may not fit a traditional 0–100 scale of assessment. Let your colleagues in on your unique classroom culture and learn from each other. This would be great modeling for our students who must eventually learn to do the same. It’s not easy, and it’s not always fun. But its value is unmatched in enabling all of us to handle future problems, because life will not always be comfortable.

Think of comfort in classrooms as water on clothes. It is necessary to wash clothes in water every now and then to maintain their natural form. However, if you leave those same clothes soaked in water for an extended period of time, there will be mildew, mold, and a smell worse than a boy’s locker room. In the same way, a teacher needs to be comfortable in their classroom every now and then, but if he or she becomes soaked in it, the entire classroom and everyone in it will eventually rot and stink.

~Written by Coach Andres Gomez

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