What do students NEED to know?

A colleague friend of mine says, “If a student can Google it faster than I can teach it, then why am I teaching it?” This is a fantastic question that cuts deep into my teacher soul. And because I cannot argue with this logic, I am forced to consider what it is that I tell my students is important. It causes me to think about my brother. 

As a child, my brother was placed in the Gifted and Talented program. But as he got older, it was apparent he was losing interest in school. By middle school, he was completely disengaged. During high school he frequently skipped class and about half-way through the second semester of his senior year he dropped out. It was apparent my brother had no interest in school, but he was interested in skateboarding, music, and art. Sadly, none of his teachers encouraged him to persue his passion and incorporate them into his learning.  

A few years after he quit school he decided to become an air traffic controller. He enrolled in the local adult education program to earn his diploma. As soon as he graduated, he enlisted in the Air Force. 

When he completed his four years, he was hired by the FAA. Presently, my brother is not  only a respected air traffic controller, but he is also a trainer. He does very well for himself. He makes a very comfortable living. But most importantly, he loves his job and he feels successful. 

During high school, my brother would have been considered a failure. Obviously, this was not the case. I am quite proud of his success and am his biggest fan. 

So, did my brother need advanced calculus, to memorize the US Constitution, to know the differences of mitosis and meiosis, or be able to analyze the poetic devices in Beowul? Obviously not. He is successful in spite of knowing these things. He has also become a voracious scholar of world religion and history. He spends a lot of time with his nose in books. His knowledge is on par with many graduate students, but without the student loans. My brother is a flourishing and thriving high school dropout. 

So, if it wasn’t the cannon of traditional education that my brother needed to be successful, what was it?  I believe there are three key skills that has helped him become who he is:

  1. He is able to access good, reliable information.
  2. He knows how to apply this information.
  3. He is able to self-advocate.

These are the foundational skills my brother relied on while on his path to success and these are the very skills our students need in order to enter society to become contributors to the betterment of the world. 

Throughout my years in education I have seen kids just like my brother. Kids who are full of potential but somehow lost interest in school somewhere along the way. I know these kids will be successful. They simply need someone who believes in them and is willing to challenge them and give the the freedom to integrate their interests into their learning. I am trying to be that person. 

Though my brother is now in his forties and a respected professional, he has not lost touch with who he is. He still shreds it up on his skateboard, he writes his own music, and he does some fantastic artwork. He is a passionate person who challenges me. His story empowers me to reach out and connect with my students and teach them what it is that is really important in life. 

And this is what is important:

We are who we are and it is our obligation to be nothing less than that. And it should be the goal of every teacher to see this in their students and look for ways to bring it out. 

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