Education Opinion

Is ‘Fun’ an Ideal Teaching Goal?

By Kyle Redford — July 30, 2016 2 min read

I get frustrated when teachers are encouraged to make school “fun”. Go ahead and debate me, but I think “fun” is a term better used for the playground than the classroom. Teachers who promise to make school fun are like parents who want to be friends with their children. Sure, I am all for fun (and friends), but in the appropriate context. Learning can and should be engaging, exciting, compelling, stimulating, satisfying, inspiring, imaginative and even pleasurable. But fun? A teacher’s main job is to help students become more competent, confident and curious. Fun rarely delivers on those goals. Words matter. The word “fun” can trivialize the serious work related to learning and confuse teaching with entertaining.

Just to be clear, I want my students to enjoy school as much as any other teacher and I do not believe that teachers should try to convert every moment into a measurable learning opportunity. I believe in the importance of play during the school day. Likewise, being creative, passionate and enthusiastic about our teaching certainly helps to make it more effective. But the word fun aptly describes recess, end-of-day dance parties, Jeopardy quizzes, field games, and holiday celebrations -- things that punctuate and support learning, but do not define it.

Let’s admit it, learning is sometimes uncomfortable. That is okay. Teachers do not need to apologize for discomfort akin to a fitness challenge, wince-worthy in the moment but often relished and fondly reflected upon later because of the growth that it fostered and the confidence it inspired. We all know that if students were asked if they would rather learn how to write an essay or have a class party, most of them would choose the party. But those same students would later thank us for empowering them with new skills, even if they were complaining or uncomfortable at the time. Everyone knows that learning does not feel fun in the middle of the stretch. If growth is our teaching goal, then fun should not be our aspired adjective.

Obviously, it is important to match challenge with support. There is no virtue in creating challenge for the sake of challenge. We achieve nothing by watching our students flounder or flail. Finding the sweet spot, where our students are being stretched but not frustrated, can be complicated at times, and even with the best intentions we can miss our mark. But grappling to find the ideal challenge zone will serve our students more than retreating into the safety zone of fun.

Ultimately, when it comes to challenge, adults are no different from children. If asked to reflect upon our favorite experiences, most of us will name accomplishments that were hardly fun in the moment. They involved elements of “just right” challenge or discomfort, but resulted in personal growth or a feeling of pride or achievement. We do students a disservice and set them up with unrealistic expectations when we communicate that school should be fun. There is more appropriate language to describe and guide what we do. While learning is often characterized by pleasure, even joy, it does not have to be fun.

Photo taken by Clara Greisman

The opinions expressed in Reaching All Students are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read