This is the companion post to The drive shared on December 30, 2017. I wrote it because trips are always more fun with a partner.
When I was in grade school, there always seemed to be one adult whose job it was to ask students, “What do want to be when you grow up?” For some reason, this was more of a cruel conundrum rather than a sparkling conversational point. I hated hearing this question in my day. I still cringe whenever it gets asked today. Secretly, I hope students respond with something creative like Unicorn rancher or underwater coffee shop owner – anything will do, as long as it changes the subject.
I see the question more like asking students to pick the trip of their lifetime without ever having a chance to take a Geography lesson, browse a web-site or read any reviews on TripAdvisor.¹ Even though our jobs are to provide and guide our students, we still must let our learners decide their own destination(s).
This is cause for concern because I fear we’re running out of road(s) for some of our learners. For many, the destinations are leading to dead-ends instead of their dreams coming true. If we consider the ruthless nature of the real world our graduates will face, there will be many detours, breakdowns, and accidents outside of the classroom courtesy of life. And yes there will be traffic, road closures, and potholes. This makes it even more crucial for us to be paving new roads with our learners.
It’s hard to drive.
It’s even more difficult to discover what drives us.
Then there’s always the destination where departure times depend.
Decidedly, education helps define destiny and dignity.
Over the past 9 years of my teaching journey, I have sped past a few common sites along the way. Like the repeating background of an old cartoon or the cookie-cutter rest stops that line the highway – each with the same caffeine, food, and fuel options. They are;
A. Our students are taught to worry so much about the destination that they risk getting lost or forgetting the reason for their journey all together. If all they are taught to see is a mark, then it is time to redraw the maps and reprogram the GPS.
B. There is no amount of training to completely equip educators for every iteration of classroom they will work within. Some or most of the learning will come on the job, and that’s okay. Redrawing the map required, again.
C. Worksheets are neither the solution for active engagement, nor parents who demand homework for their child. They are most likely mind-numbing disengagement exercises destined for the recycling bin if not managed. How can students be free to think when the answers are fed to them to regurgitate on a page? Maybe this paper could be used for the maps instead?
D. No matter how much teachers care for their student’s well-being, academic achievement, or future they will still be allowed to fall through the cracks due to decisions made outside of our school walls. This is hard to understand, but we have to accept it and support these students where possible inside of the system.
E. Students have voices that need to be equipped and amplified. If we are not listening to our learners when they whisper, it will be too late to help when they are screaming at us. Asking students for feedback, ideas, and improvements has been one of my favourite and frightening activities. It can hurt the ego from time to time, but can also break down barriers in the classroom that can lead to more effective and honest feedback as learning.
Destination TBA is A-OK
Over the course of their learning, students will change their minds 1000s of times. They will find something interesting one week and then something different the next. What worked to inspire them last year may be the thing that gets in their way the next. As educators, we have to consider the importance of our work in preparing students to reach their destinations not ours. We must always be creating new roads for them to travel not just maintaining existing ones. We must also be teaching our students to read and draw the maps to their own future.
There will also be slamming brakes, reversing at full speed, doing donuts in snowy parking lots, and tearing out engines for rebuilding. We will fill their tanks, provide directions, and clean windshields. Yet, as elementary teachers, we rarely get to see our impact on students once they’ve traveled further down life’s roads.
Hopefully, they’ll send an occasional postcard and maybe a map to let us know they’ve arrived at their destination.
1. I used to tell people corporate lawyer so they would leave me alone. It seemed to cover all of the bases even though I would have rather pursued diplomatic or NGO work overseas. And now, here I am – a teacher, writer, and question askerer.