BOSTON — When my fourth-graders began asking, "Is it going to be fun?" too often, I became concerned. Perhaps because they are growing up with TV, videos, and computer games, children in our society have come to expect that whatever they are involved in will be fun. Knowing such an expectation is not always reasonable, I designed assignments that would help students begin to understand the balance between the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of daily tasks.
During the first week of school, children in my class must now interview a parent or adult relative about his or her job (in or out of the home). I ask them to list what the adult says is fun and not fun about the job. Then they write a paragraph explaining how the person interviewed copes with the less appealing aspects of a job.
When we share the results, I always appreciate the wisdom imparted by the interviewees in comments such as:
"She asks people for help when she needs it."
"He tries to have a positive attitude."
"He keeps reminding himself that he has to be patient with people who aren't cooperative and that if he doesn't do things well the business will fail."
"She just has to grin and bear it because she knows her job is important."
"He thinks about our family and reminds himself that he works hard to take good care of us."
Needless to say, the comments about coping stimulate valuable discussions. This leads naturally into the next assignment, which is to brainstorm about being a student. First I list what I enjoy and do not enjoy about being a teacher. I also explain how I cope with some of the undesirable aspects of my job while encouraging the kids to think about how they might handle what they don't like about being students.
After completing the assignment, the children list all the ways they could cope with the less pleasant aspects of being students. This list is posted and serves as an excellent source of reassurance and encouragement for the class.
We also talk about learning in general. I ask them to tell me what they think learning involves, and we generate a list:
* Working hard
* Solving problems
* Making mistakes
* Asking questions
* Using resource materials
As we share ideas, I ask individuals to tell about times when they persevered in learning situations that were frustrating or challenging, but that resulted in the joy of accomplishment. Everyone has stories to share, and I contribute my own as well.)
The more we add to the list and discuss, the more the kids begin to realize that learning is hard work and not always fun. My job as a teacher, then, is to help them discover that the long-lasting rewards of learning far exceed the momentary pleasures of superficial entertainment. I always know I'm making good progress when I stop hearing, "Is it going to be fun?" and see learners willingly accepting challenges and working hard to do their best.
* Betsy Motten, a teacher at Wallingford (Pa.) Elementary School, is currently on sabbatical.