Posts Tagged ‘Society’

Preparing Students for the Real World

December 2, 2011

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.

Our Children Must be Taught About Society’s Lie

March 18, 2011

It’s time to correct the mistakes of my generation by ensuring that our children aren’t given the same misleading message.  For too long society has fed our young a big, destructive lie.  For too long that lie has been allowed to take over our lives, muddy our relationships and bring out the worst in people.

It’s time to revisit the following question and change the answer:

What is success?

  • Success in Not Dependant on Money – For too long we have been programmed to look at wealthy people as successful.  This is simply unfair.  No matter how you structure a democratic society, there will always be a very small percentage of wealthy people.  Are we saying that only 5% of our population are going to be successful?  Surely success is something obtainable to a broader group of people?  We have seen how easily wealthy people lose their wealth.  We have also seen how dishonestly some wealthy people obtain their wealth.  Is this the trademark of success?  Surely not.  We must tell our young that a wealthy person is someone who can feed and clothe their family.  Not someone with cars they don’t drive and a holiday home only lived in for a few weeks during the summer.

 

  • Success is Not Dependant on Appearance – This one really upsets me.  It is a sentiment which allows the advertising agency to take control of our self-esteem, flog us products that don’t work and make perfectly “normal” and healthy people feel ugly.  By setting up a model of beauty that is impossible for 95% of society to ever achieve is tragic!  The current model of how we should look goes against the natural aging and metabolic process of the body.  It says that if you have wrinkles, freckles, dimples, big ears, a bent nose, cellulite, small breast or a certain complexion you are not beautiful.  Gone are the days where we can even say “Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder”, because this model of beauty has infiltrated and brainwashed the beholder.  Is it alright to look your best?  Sure.  Is it beneficial to look after yourself? Absolutely!  But an obsession with looks, like every other obsession is destructive.  Even those that are blessed with such looks soon find out that it doesn’t last forever, and when it goes, they often haven’t developed other parts to their character to fall back on.  I personally, don’t believe in forcing the media and advertisers to change their policy.  I believe in advocating a change of perspective starting from parents and supported by teachers.  We must redefine beauty and then show our children that our appearance has nothing at all to do with success.

 

  • Success is Not Dependant on a Title – Not everyone can win an Oscar or become a President, and nor should they to feel successful.  For too long society has peddled the belief that doctors and lawyers are successful while taxi drivers and house painters are not.  A taxi cab driver might not sound like a successful profession on face value.  But that same taxi driver has a crucial role to play.  They help the disabled and the aged, are crucial in keeping intoxicated people off the roads and protect vulnerable people from walking the streets and taking the trains late at night.  A house painter may seem like an ordinary profession, but have you ever looked at the difference a bright, well-painted room makes to a persons mood and outlook?  All jobs have a critical role to play in making life more enjoyable regardless of the pay involved.  We must tell our children and students that it’s not what you do that determines your success it’s how you do it.

So what is the measure of success?  If it has nothing to do with a person’s level of wealth, appearance or job description, what does success look like?  I prescribe to the following checklist:

Are you a good person?  Do you treat others with respect and show empathy and concern? Do you avoid speaking disparagingly about others (particularly behind people s backs)?  Do you refrain from spreading rumours about others?

Are you patient?  Do you allow others to have different views and opinions?

Do you follow the law? Are you truthful?  Are you fair in business?

Are you a good parent? Do you put your children first?  Do you spend enough time with them and take an interest in their passions?

Are you a good husband/wife/partner?  Do you accept your spouse for who they are?  Do you avoid putting down or heaping guilty on your partner?

My checklist isn’t dependant on characteristics that are only obtainable by a miniscule proportion of society.  Instead it reinforces my belief that all of society can be successful regardless of background or job description.  That’s why I think that an educator has an even more important job than simply covering the curriculum.  We get the chance to instill in our students a sense of self, what they can achieve, and how they can use their unique qualities and skills to positively affect the world.

I usually don’t impart my personal beliefs on my students.  I believe that teachers should allow their students the opportunity to form their own beliefs.  But on this subject, I gladly make an exception.

I will not hear it that only some of my students can achieve success. While I have them, I will continue to fight for their right to a self-esteem, an opportunity to claim “real success” and a an awareness of society’s lie about what success is.

 


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