Preparing Students for the Real World

Sometimes I find it hard to decide whether to expose my students to the realities of the real world or protect them from disappointment.

Never is the conundrum stronger than when it comes to the issue of competition in the classroom.

Society loves to paint clear labels. Winners and losers, successful and unsuccessful, popular and unpopular, beautiful and ugly. The pressures that these labels bring is certainly prevalent in the classroom and is a great cause of anxiety among the students. No matter how tactful the teacher can be, the students are aware that they are graded, levelled and streamed, and with the help of their parents, take a strong interest as to where they stand in the pecking order.

There are many teachers who use competition as a motivating force. Everything from star charts and games to public assessments and evaluations are intended to get students to ignore the often mind numblingly boring lesson presentation and instead, concentrate on beating their fellow classmates.

There are students that excel when offered this incentive. These students love the modern trend of standardised testing.  For them, it’s an opportunity to show how dominant they are over their peers.

But then there’s the student that collapses in a heap under the threatening and potentially confidence sapping pressures of being compared to others. These students watch their fellow classmates reading at level 30 while they are in the late teens and decide that they hate reading and have no interest in practicing or improving.  These students claim that they are stupid, so what is the point.

I was a student who struggled to cope in an environment of “dog eat dog” competition.  My classmates left me in my wake as I struggled with the labels that came with constant comparison and the humiliation of being repeatedly streamed in the bottom group. That is why I modify my teaching to cater for students sick of the constant intrusion of grades in education.

When testing the kids, I don’t give them a letter or number grade, instead I chose to give them clear feedback on skills they performed well in and found challenging.  This not only prevents students from comparing themselves to others, but also provides clear feedback on what they can do and what skills require further practise.

The question is, if real world experiences feature competition, comparisons, labels and winners and losers, am I protecting my students from experiences they need to learn? Eventually they will need to compete against others for jobs and promotions. If I protect them from real life situations am I not doing them a disservice?

Another issue I have on this topic is that I don’t approve of many of the behaviours prevalent in the “real world”.  Just because there is bullying, gossiping, bad manners and selfishness outside my classroom doesn’t mean that I will stand for it in my classroom. At some point I want to ignore what goes on outside the four walls of my classroom and instead, help my students change the rules of society rather than simply prepare them for it.

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2 Responses to “Preparing Students for the Real World”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    I identify with your dilemma, Michael. As someone who has spent a large part of his career working with behaviour disordered kids I find many of them to have simply given up the game. Rewards do help but only up to a point. When a student discovers that a task is not worth doing for it’s own sake but for a specious reward the quality of student work suffers. Most of the consequences we apply are purely artificial and in no way reflect what happens in the “real world”. One employer I worked for thought they might reward employees for useful suggestions. Some of which saved or earned the company a lot of money. However, many suggestions were ignored and the contributors received no feedback. Is it any wonder that the company gave up asking for suggestions when most of the suggestions contained only two words? How intelligent is it to suspend a student for truancy??!! Unfortunately when standardised testing sets the syllabus education becomes such a mind numbing experience that something has to happen to coax the students to work. I think when we get to that stage we have lost the plot. Clear, honest feedback is appreciated much more by motivated students than the usual tripe dished up. The problem, in my experience is that so many children are discouraged by sterile offerings or by work which is too difficult that they might as well display problem behaviour. I once had to work with a group of young disaffected high school students. I scoured the town to scrounge old bicycles and parts and set up a series of lessons to recycle the parts and build “new” bicycles. I got into trouble from the Deputy Principal. Apparently my role was to provide punishment for these boys. Why should they be rewarded for misbehaving??!! “Engage” is a modern buzz word in education. I think it is #4 in the BS Bingo game. Engage? I can’t even read most syllabuses these days (gobbledygook), let alone use them to produce engaging lessons. Until the inspiration for syllabuses comes from teachers, instead of bureaucrats it’s not going to change. I started teaching when the curriculum was expressed as a series of topics. This gave free range to a teacher’s creativity. Now syllabuses are so verbose and so loaded with jargon and the language of micromanagement as to be completely devoid of meaning.

  2. oneburnedoutmama Says:

    You bring up some great points which remind us that most kid issues aren’t completely black and white (as much as we’d like them to be!). I’ve learned that the comments section of their report card tells me the most about how they’re doing in school. Overall if they are respectful, attentive and organized they will find some success in most classroom environments (competitive, touchy feely, etc.). That being said, grade performance in school is important. The letter grades are necessary to ensure that they stay on track with grade level requirements – they are our black and white, and they tell us if the mechanics of what they’re doing need improvement (i.e. test taking, turning in homework on time). Subjective indicators tell me how they’re doing in the gray areas. As far as the classroom, they need the black and white more than the gray during school hours. It’s our job as parents to backfill with the emotional support necessary to get them prepared for a very competitive and unforgiving world.

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