Well it’s the end of term, and I’ve been thinking about my students, the ones where the program “worked” and the ones where it didn’t. I’m also mulling over the results of this survey,** and filtering it all through a post called The “L” Word . I’ve been thinking about how we define ourselves as teachers, and about how this relates to how we define our students, and finally to how students define themselves. I’m going to start at this last point and work backwards.
In this case, the L word is “lazy.”
At the beginning of each academic year, I ask all my students to write one word by which they define themselves. In each section, in each year, at least one student has chosen the word “lazy.” I find this both interesting and problematic.
It’s not that we don’t talk about ourselves as lazy. In fact, the shallow waters of the internet are full of discussions of laziness, often taken to extremes, to what could perhaps be described as laziness porn. *** My fb friends and I share these back and forth, and engage in our own conversations about our great indolence. Yet, as can be seen from the term, this laziness porn has a transgressive quality. Laziness to us still has a certain taboo value. And yes, we do talk about our laziness, but there is usually a tension between what we say and the shared reality (I am saying I’m lazy, but we both know that I never stop moving, or that I just finished marking 30 papers, or that I’m working on my Goodreads goal.). We are a little bit like the annoying person we knew in high school who claimed not to have studied but then aced the test. We do not really think of ourselves as lazy, or if we occasionally do, we do not choose that moment to post a fb message about it.
It’s also not that our own kids aren’t lazy. It could be argued that our locally raised kids are much lazier than the ifp students (Not much of an argument really — which group goes to academies until midnight? memorizes vocabulary lists in the summer holidays?). However, our kids are much less likely to self-identify as lazy. When I worked in a private Canadian high school, I encountered kids with serious motivation problems, but they did not define themselves by their laziness. Instead, they would choose the one thing they were passionate about (skateboarding, Nintendo) and tell me about that.
So why is this the case? Why do our ifp students willingly adopt the term? One colleague posits that it’s just a language thing, that the English word does not carry the same weight to a non-native speaker. It’s also possible that these kids have had this word directed at them so many times that they have internalized it. Maybe they are even reclaiming it, the way a minority group proudly repurposes a word that had been used against them.
Whatever the cause, the word is a problem. If a student is unproductive, but identifies as a music fan, or a soccer player, he or she has opened up the pupil-teacher dialogue, at least a little bit. Perhaps I will learn a little about Slipknot, or offside rules (thank you, Mental Floss!), just so that I can surprise you with a piece of knowledge on the topic. Maybe then we can talk a little. But if the only word you offer me is “lazy,” it’s as if an impenetrable barrier has just been lowered between us.
*Imagine if you will: a mock-up of the deathless Duran Duran album cover with an image of Teacherpants insinuated next to the pouty-faced Simon LeBon. Imagine as well: hearing the first two bars of the iconic intro when you click on the image. I was actually working on this for a while, but the hilariousness: effort ratio was less attractive than I thought. At any rate, some things are best left to the imagination.
**Which I learned about from this blogpost. Thanks for the great idea, Anne of Livinglearning!
*** and also this