What comes next?!
Updated: May 2, 2019
There is a lot of talk about getting our students ready for what comes next. But what DOES come next? Grade 10? Grade 11? Grade 12? University? College? Work? Or maybe the only thing they care about what's next is their next meal, or if they'll be warm and comfortable and safe when they go to be tonight. There's a lot of talk about how we have to get our students ready for the real world. How do we do that? What is the real world? And how come the world in which they currently exist is not the real world?
These are all statements that the more that I hear them, the more I question the source and the sentiment. We all know how self-centred teenagers can be, but it's not their fault. They don't have enough life experience to see the big picture all the time. But only life can give them that experience. Nothing I say or do in a traditional classroom will open their eyes to that. Having them come to class, sit in their seats, take diligent notes and perform labs that have an expected outcome is not going to give them any kind of life experience that is going to open their eyes to the big picture, to "real life", or "the real world".
But what if we accepted that the world in which they're currently living IS, in fact, THEIR real world? I'm starting to think that we're actually doing a disservice to our students by not honouring them where they are. I'm starting to think that if we're getting them for what comes next, and the real world, they might start to think that they're not good enough where they are.
Our students, the ones who sit in our classes each and every day experience real life all the time outside our classroom. Family members get into accidents, get sick, die. They experience violence in their streets, and maybe in their homes. Their parents yell and scream at each other, leave each other, and our students, who sit in our class every day blame themselves for it. They have one home one week, and another the next. They have parents who want to be their friends, but all they want are their parents to be their parents. They get bullied in and out of school. They witness addiction. They experience addiction. They win and lose championship games. They love, break hearts and get heart broken. They laugh, they cry, they hurt, they grow. And yet, when they come to school, which may be the safest place for them, we constantly remind them that they aren't even in the real world yet, and that they aren't ready for whatever is coming next.
Imagine living a life where you come home from school everyday and wait for both of your parents to arrive home. Every dinner time is tense and you know that the moment you go upstairs "to do your homework" you're going to have to turn the music up just loud enough so that you won't have to hear your parents screaming at each other. In a sad daze, you go about answering questions from a text book, or copy and pasting answers from Wikipedia because you have a project due tomorrow that you don't really care about.
You show up late for class in the morning because you slept through your alarm and both your parents are gone to work. You didn't finish the homework or the project, and you go to the back of the class, keep your head down, and hope you don't have to answer any questions in front of the class. The bell rings and your teacher pulls you aside. They start giving you the gears for being late, again, and not completing your work, again. You know that there is no point in telling the teacher what's going on in your life because there's nothing they can do to help it, so you just listen. "If you show up late for work this many times, chances are good you're going to get fired!" And, "how long do you think you're going to be able to keep your job if you can't meet any deadlines?" And then, "I'm just trying to help you out, because when you get out into the real world, it's going to get worse. Nobody is going to ask you why you were late and no one is going to care about your excuses..."
A situation like that, to me, seems pretty bleak if I'm that student. And if I'm being honest, a teacher who says things like that isn't going to motivate me. While I have to admit, I've used those lines, I will promise, I won't anymore. School is not a job, and I think we should stop comparing it to one. Students, if you ask me, will always win that argument when they say, "Yeah, but you get paid to do a job!" If I'm the student in the situation above, I might start to feel like, "what's the point of even trying if this is only going to get worse, and no one is going to care." There might be students out there who already thinks no one cares, and when a teacher says those things at just the wrong time, that to me is NOT a motivational speech.
We can talk about teaching deadlines and time management later, because while I believe those are important skills, there is a time and a place for that. I'll write a blog about it later, when I feel like it, when all the other things in my life work out so that I have time to do the things I really want to do...you know what I'm saying? Reading between the lines?
Since I don't know what it's like to be in their "real" world, and I don't rightly know what comes next for these students, I'm going to try to be more understanding and empathetic about where these kids are and where they're coming from. The system as it is right now, seems to expect students to walk into class and meet the teacher where they are. They're in grade 10 science? They need to know "this much". They're in grade 12 bio? They will have "these skills". And if they don't, last year's teacher must have done a crappy job and is making this year's teacher's job harder because now they need to get the student caught up. This seems to be a very teacher centred model if you ask me, and we really need to start focusing on the students as they are in front of us. Not who they should or will be. I'm not a Nirvana fan, but maybe Kurt Cobain was onto something when he wrote "Come As You Are".
Now, that's not to say I'm not going to do my job. I want my students to leave my class having met the goals I have set for them, but I'm going to be a little more flexible, or I'm going to try to be, when some students are having a hard time meeting a goal someone (and practically a total stranger) else has set out for them. I think the Ontario Science Curriculum is a good tool, and I like it's progression. But, I am realizing that the skills that I think are most important for my students to develop are not the same as everyone else's. The challenge is to find a balance between being a team player and honouring the students I have in front of me.