Oh Holly Holiday, You Got it -All- Wrong

Time for a confession: I watch Glee. And I love it. Yes, yes I know in real life they are all Broadway stars and/or adults playing people 20 years their junior. The plot lines are wildly improbable, it’s auto-tuned to the max, and hopelessly saccharine, but I don’t care. It’s a great way to pass a cold Tuesday night in Ohio.

This week there is a new character: Holly Holliday, the Spanish substitute teacher, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who swoops in the McKinley High when the flu strikes the faculty. She advertises herself as the “cure for the common classroom” and hangs her success on talking about the things that the students want to talk about vs the dry boring stuff that is normally discussed in Spanish class.

Like, Lindsay Lohan. Um.

I had hopes for this character. I thought, yay, the producers are going to give us someone who deviates from the dull and boring, the dry and tired Spanish class. Someone who is going to connect the content of the classroom with the interests of the students and engaging them in exciting news ways. “I try to relate to the kids, listen to what they have to say” (Plus, omg, GP really does speak Spanish, and beautifully so).

Fingers crossed…

In the next scene, Ms. Holiday is recruited to be the sub for the glee club as well. Oh because, of course, with an ear like that for language she can sing as well. (more clapping from me).

The dialogue goes something like this: (thank you hulu for your closed-captioning function 🙂 )

There she goes, telling the students that their opinions matter…and that singing someone else’s songs was stifling their creativity, their ability to be thoughtful and motivated performers. She engages them, she makes them feel like their opinions matter…

….and then she does what every critic of student centered learning waits for. She stops being the teacher and suddenly becomes the pathetic “please be my friend” kind of instructor that will do anything to be popular. The lines blur. Next, she’s giving out answers to pop quizzes. Game over.

Oh jolly Holly Holiday, you got it all wrong. Student-centered learning isn’t about giving up control of your classroom, and it certainly isn’t about lowering your standards as a teacher or a scholar. It’s about engaging your students, by starting from their vantage point. Asking them what they want to learn only means that everyone has to work harder (even the teacher)…and working harder does not mean skipping class, scoring medical grade marijuana or canceling class in order to go to Taco Bell.

Dios mío, indeed.

Barbara has been working for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for about 15 years. In addition to teaching Spanish she runs a somewhat unconventional language center. Prior to this adventure in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and watch the Red Sox. Preferably not all at once, although that could be interesting. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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