by Ceil Hoopes
Delaware Technical Community College
Recently, an English teacher at a local high school told me about a new writing assignment for his twelfth graders: he asked them to write an essay that would best depict 24 hours in their lives. What he learned was so surprising that it led him to completely reframe his curriculum to reflect the real-world experiences of his students.
You see, after getting a better glimpse into the lives of his students, this teacher was forced to reflect on all of his interactions with them—not just his temperament in the classroom, but also his discussion topics, his assignments, and his assessments. He saw such a disconnect between what went on in his classroom and what went on in his students’ lives that he had no choice but to change things.
Life lessons aren’t on the syllabus
So many times we make judgments using arbitrary milestones: an 18-month old should speak a dozen words, a third-grader should know how to multiply fractions, a college freshman should know how to write an essay. When this teacher got to live for 24 hours in his students’ shoes, he learned that while many of them may not have reached the typical milestones, they had already crossed challenging hurdles that many of us didn’t have to worry about as youth.
Many students, for example, worked almost until midnight every night of the week. Some students who would have benefited academically from staying after school for extra help were instead responsible for taking care of younger siblings. Then there was the goofy young lady who the teacher assumed to be clueless because she arrived late to class at least twice a week. It turned out that cluelessness was not the culprit for her tardiness—she had a mother at home with MS who relied on a caretaker every day. If the caretaker was running late, so was the student.
Looking beyond the transcript
In August many of these of students will be walking through our doors with the same gifts and the same burdens. How am I going to see them? Will I use their SAT scores or placements test results to size them up? Will I judge that they are doomed for failure because they are coming in on the last day of registration? How can I create methods, as both an advisor and an instructor, to get to know them beyond the data? Will I take the time to recognize the victories I witness every day through our students?
This is how I am going to challenge myself. Sure, I know that education has become data driven and we are asked to work towards certain goals to improve our numbers. That’s cool, I get that. But I want to find a way to use my students’ numbers to get to know them better—and I’m not just talking about the numbers that show up on their transcripts. I want to find out how many buses they took to get here or how many jobs they are working in order to pay for school. I want to know how many kids they have at home, and how old their kids are. I want to know if they have ever been deployed in the service of our country. If so, how many times? I honestly believe that I will become a better teacher and a better advisor when I take the time to get to know all of their numbers. Because the real story is in the numbers.
What numbers do you use to learn out the real story about your students? Leave a comment and let us know.