My nine year old son has recently discovered the joy of Harry Potter and has immersed himself in the world of Hogwarts, Harry, Hermione, and Ron. It has been fascinating to watch how this reading experience has transcended the pages of his book to his world of play. He has built Diagon Alley out of Lego, he raided my broom closet for everything with a long handle to play quidditch in the backyard, and at this very moment, he is downstairs pretending to be a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher instructing his brother and friend on how to cast spells against all things evil.
However, school is not going well. The Dark Arts students are revolting. They are seven years old and are being forced to copy notes. My younger son complains, “Matthew, I want to play but it’s the writing I hate!”
I listened as things heated up and decided to seize the teachable moment. I called Matthew upstairs and said, “You know, I think it’s important that you listen to your students. Think about what Nathan is saying to you.”
A tad bit annoyed at my interference, Matthew retorted. “Mom, he’s going into second grade. They’re going to be doing a lot more writing.”
This was a funny moment to me. One of Matthew’s pet peeves is teachers who say “you’re going to need this…when you’re in fifth grade, when you get to the middle school, when…”
And here he was defending his teaching using the exact same language.
There are certain things that we do as teachers that make students groan (writing notes on the board for students to copy and memorize, administering an ELA practice test for the seventh time…). When students ask why, the best answer we can give them is “just because.” We sometimes follow it up with inane comments like “it will make you smarter, it’ll help you on the test, it’s good for you, it will help you when you get to middle school, or you’ll need it next year.” But the bottom line is, sometimes, we don’t have a good reason.
And this is a bad practice.
We need to think hard about what we are teaching and why we are teaching it. Time is one of teaching’s greatest demons and I am sure that any good Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher would insist that if our justification for teaching is “because,” the antidote is simple: Abracadabra, circular file.