Happy Thursday everyone! Today we have a great guest post from the lovely Kelly who was my in-post sponsor during the month of January. I’m happy to share Kelly’s post about teaching and engaging students, as I spent almost 9 years as a high school teacher.
I am a middle school teacher. That very statement often solicits reactions of both sympathy and blessings, and I am always happy to accept the latter, but most people have it wrong.
Middle school rocks. And we, the adults in charge of shepherding our kids through it, are blowing it. Big time. If we don’t fix it, and soon, the results will be tragic. The school is on fire and it seems like we’re busy sharpening pencils for high stakes exams.
Middle school students are caught in developmental purgatory. They are richly diverse…culturally, academically, socially, physically, emotionally and socioeconomically. And most are simply hoping to make it through…to high school…to college…to some sort of life that everyone tells them is about to start.
It’s no secret that our schools are in crisis. We are losing our kids, because in trying to solve the equation for success, we miss the mark…their hearts…their passion…and it’s resulting in a lack of proficiency. And it’s that lack of passion, not proficiency, that is plaguing our kids.
Kids haven’t changed, but the world has. From birth, we have empowered kids…encouraged them to ask questions, to speak their minds and to think for themselves. Why should we be surprised that the factory model and curriculum canon no longer work?
In our schools’ defense, I acknowledge that students come to us, often with significant gaps in their skill sets. And poverty impacts student achievement in ways that most will never understand.
Scaffolded skills are key to higher achievement levels. But, in the quest for students’ academic gain, we’ve lost sight of students’ passion and their hearts.
And they’re checking out. Big time. And if they don’t care, they won’t achieve. Period.
Most states have adopted the Common Core State Standards and it’s easy to understand why.
There’s a sense of desperation tied to raising student achievement and the feds are betting the house on these national standards.
Regardless of what people think of the CCSS, what’s most important is that we ignite or reignite students’ passion and inspire them to pursue lifelong learning.
If they’re engaged, they’ll achieve. But if they could care less, we’re doomed.
I’m only one person. So is every other teacher. There’s so much beyond our control, but for the most part, we can control what happens within the walls of our own classrooms. The change starts with us.
- Middle school curriculum, on its own, will never make or break anyone. Start with relationships. Continue to build relationships with kids. Encourage and practice kindness and empathy. Lead by example.
- Know their interests. Share their excitement. For example, achieving a new level on a video game may not seem like a lot, but if we compare it to a milestone we’ve been trying to reach and it’s easy to see…everything is relative.
- I tell my students that there is so much more to them than how they perform in any given classroom. Know who they are and what makes their heart pound, for better or for worse.
- Ask their opinion and then, let them share that opinion. Bring current events into the classroom. Let them bring current events into the classroom. You’ll find out quickly where their interests lie. My middle school students will be voting soon. And they vote every day with their dollars. Knowledge is power; help them understand the power they do have and how to use it to their advantage.
- Share our passions. Lead by example. Give them hope beyond the walls of your classroom. For example, I love to share my travel experiences with my students. They need to know that there is life beyond our school. They have choices and new chances every day. We all do. Use them for good.
- Build curricula around students’ interests and inquiry whenever possible. The English Language Arts standards are ideal for this. Do whatever has to be done to make curriculum relevant to students’ interests and useful for their life skills, not just their test taking skills. They need to find value in what they learn. Doing it because I said so doesn’t work. It rarely did and it still won’t. Sometimes standards can seem obscure and their only value lies in making the next level more accessible. Acknowledge it for the stepping stone that it is and move on.
- No one likes to fail. Regardless of how a student presents, everyone wants to be successful. Unfortunately, in many schools, for many students, academic success is tied to issues related to compliance, like homework. Standard proficiency is one thing, but punishment is another. Consider alternate paths to demonstrating proficiency. If a student is a caregiver, is hungry, neglected or abused, homework understandably lies at the bottom of the priority list. Knowing our kids helps us to know that and act accordingly.
- Most importantly, schools need to remember that students are still kids. They need to move. They need to talk. They need to play. Some experience stress and worries that no child should ever encounter. There are multiple resources online dealing with classroom activities that honor and respond to the needs of middle school students. Their heads won’t work unless their hearts do. Sometimes, we’re all they have.
Teaching is a gift and a blessing I have been honored to have. But school systems, in their desperate quest for higher student achievement, are missing the mark.
Schools are losing their kids. And they’re losing good teachers who want nothing more than to inspire their students to achieve and to become lifelong learners. Something has to give, because if we continue on this trajectory, we risk alienating an entire generation, inadvertently encouraging illiteracy and apathy.
And that would be tragedy of catastrophic proportions.
Thanks so much for sharing this post with us Kelly! You can check out the original post and here blog here: A Lovely Life, Indeed!
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