I have mixed feelings about Education Nation’s panel with students.
First of all, I wonder if these six young people, only three of which are currently enrolled in P-12 schools, are really a clear reflection of student perspective. And while his contributions to education are admirable, I didn’t really understand why a professional athlete was included in the panel group. At times it seems that Ann Curry’s questions tended to lead the students to endorse certain positions and as she summarized, she seemed to do a great deal of interpreting what they said. But eventually, the young people began to talk more freely. As they sort of took control of the discussion, they spoke from their hearts; and when they did that, do you know what their conversation centered around? Their teachers.
Lisa Neilsen at The Innovative Educator summarized the panel in as 20 Things Students Want the Nation to Know About Education. I acknowledge that she may have imposed her own perspective in identifying what the top twenty points were; but having watched the panel myself, she wasn’t far off.
Since Curry took some liberties in directing the conversation and Neilsen took some liberties in summarizing as well, I’ve taken the liberty of rearranging her list by categories and here’s my take on the list. Here’s how I sorted what these young people had to say:
About Community: The community should become more involved in schools Even if you don't want to be a teacher, you can offer a student an apprenticeship. About Curriculum and Instruction: We learn in different ways and at different rates Teaching by the book is not teaching, it's just talking. Us youth love all the new technologies that come out. When you acknowledge this and use technology in your teaching it makes learning much more interesting. We appreciate it when you connect with us in our worlds such as the teacher who provided us with extra help using Xbox and Skype. Bring the electives that we are actually interested in back to school. Things like drama, art, cooking, music. You need to use tools in the classroom that we use in the real world like Facebook, email, and other tools we use to connect and communicate. About Teachers: I can't learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me. Caring about each student is more important than teaching the class. Every young person has a dream. Your job is to help bring us closer to our dreams. We need more than teachers. We need life coaches. You should be trained not just in teaching but also in counseling. Tell me something good that I'm doing so that I can keep growing in that. When you can feel like a family member it helps so much. Our teachers have too many students to enable them to connect with us in they way we need them to. You need to love a student before you can teach a student. About Reform: I have to think critically in college, but your tests don't prepare me to do that. Education leaders, teachers, funders, and policy makers need to start listening to student voice in all areas, including teacher evaluations. We do the tests to make teachers look good and the school look good, but we know they don't help us learn what's important to us.
The list was both encouraging, heartbreaking at the same time. These kids know what they need and can articulate it. They want education to be relevant to the world in which they live. And they want to make that world a better place.
But above everything else, they talked about teachers. Specifically, those teachers who make a difference. One was named Mrs. Murphy and they all had a Mrs. Murphy in their life. They all identified the importance of a relationship with teachers who acknowledged students as people; who listen and care about the dreams of those student/people; and who help students acquire the knowledge and skills they need to realize those dreams. These are not the ambitions or dreams of education pundits, policymakers, school administrators, or those teachers. They are the dreams of students themselves, just like those on the stage---whether the dream was to be a builder, a dramatist, a business owner, a president, a journalist, or a teacher. One young man said “Every student has a dream and with the right teacher, they can get as close to dream possible.”
And the interesting thing is that they saw teachers as being powerful enough to help them do that. What power! What trust! Students believe their teachers can help them make their dreams come true. Or perhaps even more important, since most of us don’t realize the full extent of our dreams, some meaningful adaptation of their dreamscape--a viision balanced by reality. Why? Because they know their teachers and their teachers know them. “You have to love a student before you can teach a student.” It is a breathtaking, if, perhaps, unrealistic expectation, but I believe that it is the inspiration that lead most teachers to invest their career in the classroom.
Don’t decisionmakers realize that the possibility of that impact is what motivates us? That we push back against some policies not because we’re afraid of accountability but because we believe that our first accountability is to our students and their dreams? I am not saying that teachers are all knowing, but I have to wonder, “Can policymakers really know what’s best for students if they do not love them as individuals, and how can they love them if they do not look into their individual faces, listen to their personal thoughts, and share their unique dreams?”
Trust their teachers to know them, to love them, and to help them accomplish their dreams. Students do and they know us.
The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table 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.