Fun Inflation – The curious incident of the Lebanese exchange students.

At this time of year it can be hard to engage our year 12 students. They have worked really hard and had enough but are required to reappear in school to start their A2 courses. They aren’t really up for hard work. A few years back I had some ‘less well focused’ classes and so was not exactly excited to find out their numbers would be swelled by the addition of a group of students from the Lebanon on a two week exchange. As usual I had planned a feast of fascinating and lively lessons to tempt the sated appetites of my beleaguered year 12s – but this year they were really not interested and not very well behaved. However, when the Lebanese students arrived things became even more challenging…

Those exchange students just loved history and politics lessons! They were thirsty to learn, excited by the fascinating stuff we were discussing (see it was interesting really) and even the ‘cool kids’ amongst them found my lessons novel enough to pique their curiosity.

Meanwhile my own, home grown students remained challenging. I was finding this all rather odd. It was as if I was in two separate classrooms simultaneously. Was I an uninspiring bore or an exciting sparky bundle of teaching talent? The news of my wonderful lessons reached the accompanying Lebanese teacher who came along to one lesson and found it all so interesting she asked if she could keep attending. I feel bad about it now but I said she couldn’t. I was finding it so stressful trying to keep my ‘real’ students in order and the last thing I wanted was an observer every lesson.

That experience led to my theory that ‘fun’ is definitely inflationary. Those Lebanese students were not badly educated in many ways (if their classroom contributions/written work were anything to go by) and they seemed happy with their own school life. However, the learning diet they were receiving from me was like chocolate fudge cake when you are used to a simple bread diet, no surprise that they were gulping it up.

However, if those Lebanese students were well enough educated and generally interested enough at their own school AND something similar could be said of my own students, exactly WHAT had been gained from all the efforts to make learning interesting and fun? Add to this my knowledge that my lessons were nothing like as focused on ‘fun and interesting’ as many  I read about in blogs and Ofsted reports… It struck me as likely that my own students would find some of those uber fun lessons exciting for a while when compared with what I serve up. This all leads to my rather obvious theory of ‘fun inflation’.

I do think telling students stuff they don’t really understand in a bland monotone would be boring in any culture and is to be avoided. There is such a thing as plain boring. Apparently the Lebanese students’ history lessons were especially boring and involved them just copying stuff from the board (which sadly rather explains the exciting novelty of my own teaching) but that doesn’t really take from my point. I theorise that the link between intellectual curiosity and interesting lessons is a bit like the link between happiness and wealth. It is hard to be happy when in poverty and debt and it is hard to be enthusiastic if lessons are hard to understand and, for example, delivered in a bland monotone. However, apparently after an initial burst of happiness lottery winners soon revert to previous levels of happiness and it seems that students soon find normal a lesson that would once have been exciting and novel.

Added to this, the assumption that lessons should be novel and exciting for students to want to learn also relies on you being more interesting than your colleagues.

My conclusion is that I will strive to highlight to my classes what is innately interesting in the subjects I teach. I will also try ensure there is some variety in our activities and so some lessons will be more fun than others. However, I won’t do as my NQT was recently advised and aim to make each lesson novel and exciting. I think that road leads to madness.

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