A fellow teacher and I have been working out a method to make ourselves better at what we do...sort of a New Year's Resolution toward better teaching. It basically started when one of us was called out by a student on an assignment that was essentially meaningless time-killing busy-work for students which was used by the teacher as a back-up after the teacher had forgotten the materials for the original lesson. (Yes, that was a very vague and a run-on sentence.) Let's put it more succinctly: The assignment was crap. It was a waste of the students' time, it was a waste of the teacher's time, and it was a waste of ink and printer paper.
One of the dirty little secrets about education is; this stuff happens all the time. In any given school around the country, at any given time during the school day, somewhere a teacher is assigning something meaningless. Teachers (usually) do not practice this all the time themselves, but every teacher does it now and then. It's a coping mechanism for us. It's a way of easing the pain just a little bit. Teaching is a hard job, coming up with new material is a tough task, and sometimes we just have to take it easy. At least, that is the garbage we tell ourselves when it gets a little overwhelming.
Teaching is indeed a tough job (I submit our high rate of quitting as evidence - half of teachers quit within their first 5 years of teaching, according to the Washington Post) but any teacher worth their salt knows this going into it. And furthermore, there is no excuse for giving our students meaningless busy work to do in any given class period. Every assignment, every lecture, every visual shown to students should add meaningful content to the body of knowledge. We owe it to our students and we owe it to ourselves.
My colleague and I have decided that we are personally giving up busy work. We are putting an end to giving students menial tasks that serve to do nothing but waste time. How we are holding ourselves accountable is really quite simple: We have shared this goal with our students. We tell our kids that everything we do in class we should be able to answer for. We should be able to tell them directly why they are 1) getting an assignment, 2) hearing a lecture, 3) watching a video, and/or 4) doing anything else we are doing. We have given the kids the opportunity to tell us when they believe something we are doing in class is worthless, but we are also forcing ourselves to honestly consider why we are engaging in any activity.
I expect the more deviant kids to question everything I do, especially in the first few weeks of this. However, I also expect my content to be meaningful enough to be worth their time.
I wonder if the average high school teacher would be willing to do this...