This week’s topic: What are you most thankful for in your classroom, school, or your own education?
I’d like to pose this question to current students. We often focus on the have-nots – what we don’t have, what we have not done. When we think about what we have, we can draw inspiration.
My brother and I have very different feelings toward school. I was the stereotypical good student in many ways. I answered questions when I was asked, I did not speak out of turn, I turned in my homework on time, and I was generally respectful. I was motivated to get done with school because I was and still am a very type-A person. I did not resist the educational system. In fact, in many ways, I embodied it.
My brother was not. He didn’t do his homework, he made jokes in class, and he showed little interest or care in getting his work done. He was the quintessential “surfer” guy. He liked cars, computers, and girls. He resisted the educational system. In a school devoted heavily to getting students to college, he stood out. My brother had no desire to go to a four-year college.
However, we were both pushed down the four-year college path. My brother was pressured to take classes that would help pad his degree to get him into a four-year college. The problem was, those classes had little to do with what he wanted to learn. In this way, our school failed him. He left school and went to a community college (per the pressuring of our school) and dropped out after a year. He never did go to technical school. Instead, he’s had a life full of hard work, long hours, and heavy labor.
I went into a four-year college and went through all of the steps I was told to. But, I felt I was just going through the paces. I was not inspired by school. In fact, I didn’t like school. Despite the fact that I have worked in education for 10 years, I never liked school growing up. I was the good student who hated going to school.
In my family, we had two kids – one who was the stereotypical good student: work completed, good grades, no “extra” problems and one who resisted.
I often look back to my brother and my school experiences. I wonder how his life would have been different had he been able to choose a more technical career…had our school been accepting of all careers. I also wonder how my career would be different had I been pushed to take educational risks growing up.
It wasn’t until college that I learned to take educational risks. In many ways that is a disappointment. But, it is also what I am thankful for. I am thankful for my Native American Women Studies professor at the University of Texas who pushed me in my writings. In pushing me, she gave me the confidence I never knew I had. It changed me as a student and an educator.
Before then, I knew I liked writing and reading so, naturally, I would be an English teacher. But, after getting back my first paper in her class, I questioned my abilities. I had a lot of marks on the paper and even more surprising – I had no grade, just a note asking for me to visit her during office hours.
As a shy student the idea of visiting my professor intimidated me. However, I had to do it.
I remember the quaintness of her office the first time. On the walk over, I had begun to scare myself. Why did she want to see me? Why hadn’t I received a grade? Did I do something wrong?
My initial thoughts were to assume I was in the wrong.
When I entered her office, I realized I was wrong – not in the wrong. She wasn’t there to chastise me. She was there to push me. She told me she could have given me a grade, but thought there was more to my writing than I was sharing. She taught me how to analyze and to think critically.
After a semester of her class, my writing was never the same. I spoke up in class. I took risks in my sentences. I made my own rules. I wrote with creative confidence. She helped me become an educator.
My brother never had a teacher like that. It’s something that sticks with me in the classroom. We need to push students to the point where they flounder but don’t drown. It’s a hard balance, but it’s one that gives students the confidence to innovate.
We also need to get past the idea that all students should go to four-year colleges. We need to look at students as individuals. All careers are necessary. We need sanitary engineers. We need administrative assistants. We need teachers. We need leaders. As educators, we need to look for the potential in students and push those abilities, regardless of whether those talents fit the traditional educational system.
What are you thankful for? Did any teacher or educational moment change your education? What could have changed someone else’s education.