Why Can’t the Middle Schoolers be Quiet

I received this email from our principal a few days ago. It made no difference to me until today, when I was sitting in study hall and repeatedly (as usual) telling the students to sit silently and read or work on homework. With the rolling eyes, and scornful looks after their request to get a drink was denied, I decided to finally answer her question.

Dear Faculty, My question to you is why is it so quiet at the E.S. when teachers are teaching and when I walk the halls here there is a great deal of talking? It hit me like a brick wall the other day when I walked the halls at the E.S. and visited classrooms that the students were all focused on the teacher and yes, when the teacher was talking they were listening! 

As you can see, she is comparing the elementary school students to our middle schoolers. Apples versus genetically mutated pineapple grapes. My answer to her question flowed quite quickly and fluidly as I typed out the following from beginning to end with no edits and in about 20 minutes. Obviously I had given it some thought before today…

I have an answer to your question. It may sound like I am being sarcastic, or like I’m trying to be funny, but I’m not. The answer to your question is “they are teenagers.” Again, I’m not trying to be funny. I’m actually trying to stay calm and sane, because each eye roll and sarcastic argument the students make with me inches me ever closer to wanting to chuck a desk out the window (and yes, that was for comedic effect). Honestly, I just think it is simply because of the time of their lives the middle school students are in. I also think it has a lot to do with respect, or a lack thereof, which they no doubt learn from their parents, teachers, coaches, and even peers. I’m sure you all know this already, but as I sit in study hall and have to fight back anger, repeating my instructions over and over, with the threat of detentions and being sent to the office, praying for wisdom and peace, I realize I am upset for the same reason my parents were upset with us when we were young. It’s the same reason adults yelled at us when we were teenagers. It’s the same reason we got in trouble. These children are literally fighting to fit in. They are disrespectful, rude, scared, self-conscious, hiding, and calling out all at the same time. They are trying to be unique while also trying to fit in. They want the attention of their peers and teachers at the same time they want to simply blend in to the background. Their brain chemistry is changing every minute, hormones are racing through their bloodstream, and new thoughts and feelings are emerging. Some of them just want to do the right thing. Some of them want to do the fun thing, no matter the cost. Some of them really don’t care about anything other than their personal interests. They are old enough to know better, but not old enough to comprehend the reasons. An 8th grader once asked me a question, which I cannot recall, but my answer to him was, “you won’t like my answer.” As he inquired I simply told him he would understand when he got older, and there was no reason for me to even try to explain it because he simply would not understand it. These kids have not had the experience necessary to “get” where we are coming from. They will not sit still, they will not be quiet, and they will not act with respect… unless forced. Unfortunately there are only two ways to handle things from here. We either force the students to do what we want: that is, what we believe is right, just, moral, safe, considerate, kind, helpful, loving; or we tell them what we believe and think about the world, and let them choose for themselves, which they will ultimately do anyway; with or without scorn for us adults.

The simple answer is, “because they are teenagers,” but it’s really not that simple of an answer. It is common knowledge that teenagers are complex people. Even though recent developments in science have given us better understanding of the ever changing chemistry of the adolescent brain, we are no closer to understanding the adolescent mind. They are literally children trapped in a body they assume should have grown-up responsibilities; with some of them looking the part. Their actions usually are met with mixed reactions as they assume an adult should be proud of them for taking care of business, but they are instead reprimanded (not for the action itself, but rather for the way the student went about completing the action: disrupting class, causing distractions, making more work for a teacher, and so on).

The bottom line: there is nothing we can do. Sure you can yell at them, guilt them into behaving, and threaten disciplinary action, but this will only go so far and it will only work for so long. Expecting the students to just “be good” is equally ignorant, as they will not behave properly unless told how to behave properly. Tell them why? Isn’t it best for them to just do as you say? If the students are asking questions it can only be for two reasons: they are trying to be funny, get you off topic, or waste class time (for whatever reason); or they have a sincere question and because they are able to come up with and ask the question they are probably capable of understanding the answer on some level. If the answer you give isn’t enough, they are probably capable of understanding deeper thoughts and bigger concepts than you realize. So explain it a bit more. But with all this explaining, and all the discussions, and all the talking, and all the teaching there is still no way to force teenagers to do what you want. A wise politician (yes, they exist) once said the best way to affect your kid’s decisions is to find out what they want and advise them to do it. With the intent of getting them to do the opposite, simply because they will do exactly what you told them not to.

I didn’t actually send this, as I have gotten myself into hot water by sending out emails that were too long for people to make sense of my point. Instead I’ll just keep this to myself, as well as the millions of people who won’t read it out here on the Internet. But if you are reading this, I hope you got something out of it.

How Much Suck Could Windows 8 Suck if We Knew What We Were Talking About?

Microsoft began touting Windows 8 quite some time ago. It frustrated me for two reasons: they had no finished product to actually display. It was like looking at a very colorful, tablet version of Window Phone 7. Sure, it looked cool, but it was basically just a concept being shown as if it were ready to shove out the door. What else are you supposed to think when Microsoft has actual tablets running (what appears to be) Windows 8? Now that I love it already (partly because it is different, and partly because it’s not Apple) I have to wait for it to actually become a reality. The waiting makes me angry.

The other reason I became frustrated with the first few screen shots and previews of Windows 8 was the idea that one operating system could actually be placed on desktops and tablets alike. Even now, Windows 7 has multiple flavors, including a version to place on devices used for specific purposes such as point-of-sale or kiosks. And from the buzz on the web you might gather Windows 8 will have between 6 and 10 different versions… presumably that means there will be a tablet-optimized version (perhaps the version made for mobile chips?). Even still, it just didn’t sit right with me and many other people.

When the earliest preview came out I got my hands on it. It didn’t work out well for me. I did get to see some parts of the new OS, but overall I just didn’t have the hardware to run it. One thing I did like very much was the Start button. Not it’s functionality, but the look of the button itself. It was a very simple, black window logo. Unfortunately, clicking on it took you back to the Start Screen instead of opening up the Start Menu. As the OS was completely useless to me because of my hardware limitations I did not miss the Start Menu.

Then I got the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. O. M. G. I don’t have a fancy, multi-touch tablet to test Windows 8 CP; just some old Core 2 Duo machine technically made for Windows XP, but compatible with Windows Vista (remember Vista?). The PC runs fine, except for an issue with my video card (which doesn’t have Windows 7 drivers either), but it’s a desktop. I expect it to work like a desktop. The Start Screen is fancy, useful, and clean. The Metro UI is snappy and quite intuitive (I assume it would be more so if I had a tablet to use it on: sometimes the mouse movements seem unnatural, but with a finger I believe they would make sense). You can get to a desktop mode, which resembles (and I suppose also functions) just like a Windows 7 desktop. There’s just one thing… no Start Button. Why is this a problem? How am I supposed to get to my programs? Am I really expected to swipe around the Start Screen with my mouse? The Ribbon aside, the desktop looks the same, works the same, acts the same, feels the same yet lacks a certain usability because you cannot get to your freakin’ programs! I don’t see how this is going to work… at least for people like me…

I teach (what I call) Computer Sciences at a private middle school. We learn about the Microsoft Office software, mostly, but also delve into other areas such as content creation, desktop publishing, digital multimedia, and even HTML programming. I didn’t realize until just this morning how lazy my students are; and possibly what this means for Windows 8. We just upgraded to Windows 7 computers (brand new this time around) this year. In the past we had Windows XP machines (which were much easier for me to customize for new users, clone, etc.). The teachers had been in charge of teaching computer class for some time now, and most of the elementary teachers still teach the class themselves (grades 2-5). To make things easier on everyone we placed shortcuts for all the programs we would be using (Office, IE, My Documents, My Computer, My Network, and some other programs we had) onto the Desktop. I don’t like having icons cluttering up my desktop, but these kids do. After all, what’s the alternative?

To open a program without a shortcut on the Desktop they have to open the Start Menu, click on All Programs, find and open the program’s folder, and can then finally click on the program icon to open up the program. That’s like a ga-gillion steps! many of them asked if they could place the icons on their desktop and I refused to let them. After all, Windows 7 has the “Pin to Taskbar” feature which I just love. I tried to get them to use this, at least for the programs I needed them to use for their project. Some of them just wanted those icons on their Desktop, though, regardless of how messy and disorganized it looks (although I am beginning to think they put them out there just so they can play with them; moving them around and rearranging them all the time).

And then, again just this morning, I remembered something which should have been apparent the first time I did it. When the students are asked to open a program or file which is not on their Desktop or pinned to the Taskbar, their Google training takes over and they search for this file/program. In Windows 7 you can open the Start Menu and just start typing (and you don’t even need to touch the mouse). You will perform a quick search of the Start Menu, control panel, and recently opened files among other items. In Windows 8 you can do the same thing right from the Start Screen. When you’re on the Start Screen you just start typing and you can find whatever you are looking for. Laziness, it seems, may have won this round.

After giving it some more thought I have decided maybe the lack of a Start Menu isn’t as bad as we thought. Kids these days don’t want to work for something. If they know the name of the program and they can just start typing that name to make it appear in front of them… why not? The only concern I have (besides the fact technology is making it easier to be lazy) is that my students already believe they saved their documents to Word (“Where did you save your document, Susie?” “In Word.” “What folder did you save it in?” “What’s a folder?” *sigh*). They do not understand what a “file” is, nor do they understand how to work with them. They try to “open” pictures with Word instead of inserting pictures into Word documents. They never pay attention to where they save work, rather they just type in a name and hit the save button, believing, once again, they have saved the work to the program they were using. When they switch computers they cannot find their work (which probably wasn’t saved to their network folder, if they can even remember what that is or where it’s located). They don’t have to use computers the way I had to use computers. File structure means nothing to them. They expect to open an “app”, use it, save their work to it, and have their work appear the next time they go to use it again. They have no concept of file types or extensions, either. I try to weave this information into my lessons, but it is difficult to do for this iGeneration. It absolutely frustrates me to no end!

But at least I’m not as livid about the disappearance of the Start Menu anymore. That’s good, right?

Opposites Revolt Me

I guess I’m at that time in my life. Of course, it could be caused by the fact that I work with teens. Oh, ya. What am I talking about…

I hate people. Ok, I severely dislike human beings and their nature. Here’s what irks me today: I want to teach my students to be good, kind, trustworthy, loving people. However, the world is teaching them to be selfish, greedy, and worry only about themselves. The world wants these kids to treat other people like crap and then laugh about it. The world is teaching these kids that authority figures are stupid and they don’t have to respect anyone, much less adults.

I feel as if I tell them to act like a good person and they look at me the same way kids looked at me when I was a kid. They act like I’m being prude, or a goody-goody, or lame, or square. And while I’m not particularly worried about what they think of me, I do worry about how they will continue to act in the future. I could act appropriately, teach with my words and lead by example, but it feels as if they just don’t get it. They are determined to be rude, disrespectful, and perverted people.

Perhaps this is just children. Which is why I thought it might just be that I am at that time in my life. Instead of having kids at the age of 27, and then dealing with their teenage versions 13 years from now, I am dealing with 120 different middle schoolers at the same time; most of whom are acting or beginning to act more and more perverse, rude, etc. So, it’s probably just hitting me harder. I am trying to teach these kids respect and love among all else and I don’t see it in return. So, naturally, I just assume they’re not picking it up, meaning I’m not getting through to them. But I’m not a bad teacher…. am I?

Leading by example is hard. I guess (because I’ve been told this before) I’ll never really know what kind of impact I’ve had on a child’s life until I see them at the supermarket with their own kid one of these days…