I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world, and that in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision, we shall discover a new and unbearable disturbance of the modern peace, or a saving radiance in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television – of that I am quite sure. -E.B. White, 1938
“Our teacher lets us watch movies during lunch. Can you put one on for us?” This is a question that I get asked about 50% of the times that I supply teach in an elementary classroom. I have been supply teaching for a year now, but no matter how many times I get asked this question, it always feels like I am being put on the spot, and I can’t seem to come up with a quick answer.
My hesitancy on this subject is complex. It’s not because I am against the idea of children watching TV or movies in school; it’s not because I don’t trust them telling me that their teacher allows this; it’s simply because I don’t know how I feel about television and movies becoming such a regular part of a student’s daily school routine. I am completely undecided and wishy-washy and noncommittal when people ask me whether I think it’s a good idea or not. I have to say that during my Bachelor of Education studies when we were tasked with writing our personal philosophies about what we value and believe about teaching, whether or not I was going to let kids watch an episode of “Magic School Bus” or “Arthur” during snack time did not come up.
So. I am stuck. Obviously when it is left in a teacher’s supply notes, or all of the students are telling me this is a normal routine, I allow it. My job as a supply teacher is to follow through with whatever plans the teacher has left, and if a class is used to watching the latest video from TVO Kids while they munch away, then so be it. But, what happens when I am no longer a supply teacher, when I have my own classroom and I begin to make decisions about what routines I would like to carry out with my own students? Does the TV still come out?
You see supply teaching is a multifaceted position. Although it is not something that many of us want to do long term, it does come with several great perks. Every day, you are faced with a new classroom with new rules and routines, student dynamics, and student abilities. This can be frustrating and tiring at times, but to me, being in a new classroom everyday means that I come home with a notebook full of new ideas for anchor charts, phys ed games, language activities, or number talks that the teacher left for the class. Each day I get to “test out” certain teaching methods that the teacher has put in place, and then decide whether this is something I might use in my own class one day.
I have been exposed to both sides of this experiment—TV and no TV—in every grade K-8, but for some reason, this is something that I still can’t seem to make my mind up about quite yet. There are still so many questions that seem to float around my head every time I try to make sense of this idea in my brain:
Isn’t TV bad for kids? All they do is watch TV when they get home. Don’t they need to socialize?
Yes. Kids need to socialize. They need to learn how to carry on a conversation with their friends, peers, lunch monitors, and teachers, and what better time to practice this skill than break time? The students are left to their own free will, and it is up to them to create some sort of structure and use their social skills to decide how they want to spend their lunch period. Everyday they get the chance to explore how the flow of a conversation works, how turn taking works, or how to enter a new conversation happening beside you. If students are spending their lunchtime staring at a screen, are we taking away a large opportunity for social skill development?
But what about the kids who struggle with unstructured social situations?
I remember being this kid when I was younger. If my friends in the class happened to be away one day, lunch seemed like the loneliest, most uncomfortable 30 minutes of my life. I was stuck at my desk alone with no one to talk to and no self-confidence to change that. I would have loved having a small show to watch to take the attention off my feelings of isolation and stress. Or what about kids that get teased during breaks when the teachers on duty aren’t looking, or the students that simply don’t get along with many of their classmates? Television steers kids away from social difficulties they might be having, and instead provides them with a distraction that can keep their lunch break entertaining and bully free.
Ok, so now we’re just using television as a “quick fix” to underlying issues in a classroom dynamic?
See when we phrase it that way, it doesn’t sound so great. We often complain that “kids these days” are not independent enough; their resiliency is lacking and they aren’t able to problem solve the way we used to. Is giving them a TV show during lunch simply feeding into this idea of students no longer being self-sufficient? Because students can’t socialize in a respectful and quiet manner, we provide them with something that doesn’t allow them to work on those skills but instead ploughs over and makes them irrelevant? With a movie on at lunch, students don’t have to talk to a single one of their classmates if they don’t want to. No talking, no problems. But could that be harming them in the long run?
But Allison, the kids love it don’t they?
Yes. They do. They undoubtedly do. Everyday they get to watch a little fun snippet of a favourite show while they sit and eat their lunch, and often the teacher has chosen an educational show where the students get to learn about science or history at the same time. They are exposed to new content and knowledge that they might not have time for in their regular classroom schedule, or might not be able to access at home. The class also gets to engage in an enjoyable shared group experience. They can use those experiences to relate with each other, using it to inspire a group inquiry project, or as a conversation starter at recess. It could almost be coined a bonding experience. Keeping children entertained while also educating and connecting them always seems like a win-win situation.
And sometimes the teachers love it too. Last week I taught at a school where every junior classroom had something playing on the projector screen, and it was the easiest lunch duty I had ever done. Every class was silent, kids were sitting in their desk eating their lunch, and all I had to do was make sure kids tidied up their garbage when the bell rang. I was happy, and they were happy.
But there is still a part of me that wonders if this is a good thing. Teaching students that indoor voices and respectful language need to be used during lunch can be a never-ending task, but is distracting them into silence going to benefit them any more? Is TV a distraction from all of the learning skills we should be instilling upon our students?
There is no real conclusion to this post, because I still don’t have a solid conclusion in my personal teaching philosophy about all of this. I would like to hear what you think, what you use, what has worked and what hasn’t. There are no rights or wrongs to these questions, but I would like to hear some of your ideas about steps in the right direction or ideas that might seem completely wrong in your classroom.
I still feel like I am being put on the spot by trying to make sense of it all, but maybe the next time a student asks me, “could you put on a show for us during lunch? Our teacher always lets us,” the answer will be a bit more than an, “um, well…I suppose…sure. Yes.”