I love talking to first-year teachers.
“You know, in graduate school they talk about making it ‘personally relevant to students.’ You have to make your lesson plans personally relevant to students,” my friend Erica told me. “But how are you supposed to do that for 30 kids?”
Erica is a history teacher. She’s just finishing up her first year of teaching, at the same time she’s completing her graduate degree. So while teaching a lesson on, for example, the Civil War, she’ll ask kids a question like, “What would you do if you were in this situation?” And inevitably, kids will write something like, “I wouldn’t put myself in that situation in the first place!” Or, something else equally banal.
It’s really hard to learn anything that has no personal relevance to you. Kids are forced to take required classes in which the course content is determined by the teacher. The teacher is then charged with conjuring some way to make the course content personally relevant to each of these 30 unique individuals. It’s a set up for failure. The problem with our education system is not with impudent students or incompetent teachers. The problem with our education system is in its fundamental design.
You want education that is personally relevant to students? Here’s the secret: ask them what they’re interested in learning.
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