Don’t show a video in class.
Far too many videos are shown in modern classrooms, even classical classrooms, and if a school banned every teacher from ever showing a video of any kind in the classroom, students would miss out on a few neat things, but they would also be saved from a colossal waste of time.
Many teachers defend showing videos in class on the grounds they’re “educational,” but this proves far too little. You can teach children data with a screen, but data isn’t formational. Screens are formational, though. A little child who uses videos to learn the alphabet may learn his subject much faster than a little child learning the alphabet with books, but he also learns to depend on screens and, years later, lacks a compelling reason to read Pride & Prejudice when watching the miniseries is faster and more fun. If your goal is to raise readers, using videos to teach them to read will get them literate faster, but that won’t mean they want to read books. The same is true of videos which teach history, science, or philosophy. Videos make everything faster and more fun. Within a classical framework, though, this is a compelling reason to not use them in the classroom.
“No discipline is pleasant at the time,” teaches St. Paul, which is a deeply inconvenient truth for modern Christians, who tend to believe that having fun is very important. We are terrified of not having fun, which is why most Christian events begin with a prayer that God would “just help us have fun tonight.” Fun is many things, but it’s not important and does not—by itself—create tight knit communities. That’s what suffering does. Showing videos in class might be more fun, but it won’t habituate students to respect their teachers or their classrooms. Likewise, people might enjoy going to Dave & Buster’s, but no one reveres the place. Showing a video in the classroom fundamentally alters the sort of place the classroom is. It makes the classroom more secular, more common, and less worthy of veneration.
Class time must be treated as a rare and valuable commodity. When you run out, you can’t get more, and every teacher worth his salt knows how quickly you run out of class time. One hour of class time is worth fifty hours of homework time. Homework time isn’t valuable, which means that if you absolutely must have your students to watch a video, you need to have them do it at home. Whatever students do in the classroom has far greater weight than the things they’re asked to do at home. Spending class time on a video is like spending the last week of your life on a video. There are weightier matters to attend to—and if not, it better be a truly astounding video.
That’s rare, though.
In my experience, the videos shown in class aren’t astounding. They aren’t necessary. They sort of fit in with class, they’re sort of interesting, and the students sort of pay attention. No one’s showing old episodes of Friends during fifth period. Still, if the teacher is personally capable of presenting the content of the video, why show the video? And if the teacher isn’t personally capable of showing the information in the video, why not?
All this said, I’ve shown a few videos in the classroom, and I would like to suggest there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Here’s a few tips.
First, you shouldn’t show a video in the classroom until you’ve got at least five years of experience. After five years, you can show one video. Young teachers have a poor grasp of which videos deserve class times. Besides this, students are already inclined to not respect young teachers. Why make it worse by bringing in a television? After five years in the classroom, you can show one video in class every year. After ten years, two.
Second, if you show a video in the classroom, you should stand right next to the screen. Never move more than five feet away from the screen. Remain at the front of the class, which is where the teacher stands. Even when students are looking at a screen, they should be oriented toward the teacher. If the teacher puts on a video and goes to grade papers at his desk, he ought to run suicides.
Third, the teacher should stand beside the screen so he can pause the video every minute or two and explain what is happening, point out things he wants his students to notice, and ask questions about what everyone’s just seen so that the class stays on their toes. These interruptions should be frequent enough that the mood of the class does not revert to sloth or passivity. Watching a video should never be a reward for hard work. It should be work in itself.
To sum all this up, if a teacher shows a video in class, he must do it in such a way that students can’t leave class and say, “All we did today was watch a video.” The teacher who shows a video to his students should remember that all his peers are working hard to get students to respect the task of education. He must conduct his own class in such a way that their work is not degraded.