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Who are you and why are you here?


A long time ago, just after being awarded a teaching position but before beginning it, I started to look at teenagers - I mean really look at them. And they positively freaked me out. They came in all varieties - sporty, artsy, skateboard-y, stinky, pretty, pimply, sweaty, giggly, haughty, nerdy, small, medium, and large. Regardless of their motley physical traits, they were interchangeably consistent in pubescence, awkwardness, and moodiness. How was I going to relate this audience? No, audience assumes they might actually listen to me; I remembered myself as a teenager and really started to regret my career decision.

Oddly enough, I think that was the last time I really gave a lot of thought to the unique appearances of this young generation. Once I started teaching, I didn't really differentiate too much by appearance, unless it was to learn their names. And once I got to know these kids, I no longer viewed them as a separate species, but really more as children. Even the dyed, pierced, and tattooed girl with the F*** off belt buckle became one of my favorite personalities.

Now that I spend my days in an office far, far away, I can honestly say I miss those little stinkers. Once you crack the code of their existence, they are really not so hard to manage. My belief is that all teenagers want to be treated like adults, but held accountable like children. That is, they crave choice and control but when faced with the consequences will throw a classically-toddler tantrum.

Did I say I missed that?

I am no longer Old Lady Hanifin in front of the classroom, chalk and spittle flying. Because I am building a learning video game for industrial workers (from mining to oil refineries) my learners now seem even more foreign to me. To be sure, I'm designing a video game for 50-year olds that may not even know how to start a computer. During one beta test, a player was told to move the mouse "up" and actually lifted it in the air.

It's certainly a new adventure in teaching and learning. Not only are these workers unfamiliar to me, I'll no longer even be in front of them as they go through the lessons I've created. Unfortunately, I don't have a test classroom full of miners ready to play "Just Like Me!" at the beginning of the year.

As learning continues to evolve into virtual spaces that are no longer run by teachers, but rather designed by them, it seems more important than ever to understand the learner. In the absence of a cognitive scientist, we might want to ask our students, "Who are you and why are you here?"


I am teaching kindergarten in South Korea. The children are very smart and eager to learn. It is a joy! We have fun and they are talking to me in English. I am interested in partnerships with teachers and students as we learn together.


As a high school resource teacher working with a small group of senior boys that I fear may drop out at any moment, your question and your job leaves me searching for ideas. How can I get them to answer this question seriously, "Who are you, and why are you here?" After years of struggling in academics, I'm not sure they know. As a 21st Century classroom, we have technology and they begin creating their own wikis next week, however, I feel my own expectations waning. Your suggestions are welcome.

Hi Ann,
Wow, I am brought back to reality by your post - the true challenges of being a teacher! The best I can offer is to have a "zoom out" talk. That is, most teenagers are so focused on only what happens within about a 24 hour period of their lives. If they zoom out a little, what do they see? What does next year look like for you? How about after that?

I like to talk to my students about how unfair life is (follow me here). It really is in almost all terms - beauty, finance, family, resources, etc. There is ONE thing that is offered uniformly to everyone - education. Discuss it, and let them make an informed decision as to whether they are going to squander the opportunity.

I'd love to hear back if you have the time!

Hi Ann,

A video game for 50 year olds? What is it? How does it work?

I'm working with a team to a build an on-line story-based game to teach middle-school math. I think as we become designers of this kind of curriculum it's especially important to connect with where students are. Thanks for your comments- and I'd enjoy hearing what you think about our work. www.imagineeducation.org www.kosjourney.com

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Recent Comments

  • Scott Laidlaw: Hi Ann, A video game for 50 year olds? What read more
  • Katie H: Hi Ann, Wow, I am brought back to reality by read more
  • Ann: As a high school resource teacher working with a small read more
  • Pamela Weeks: I am teaching kindergarten in South Korea. The children are read more



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