Welcome back, and thanks for joining us for another Students Speak Up post! I’m excited for the opportunity to share insights with you again today from a student perspective on what works, doesn’t work, and could be better, all in my own opinion and based on my life experience.
One enduring stereotype about primary and secondary education in general is that you come out of the system lacking the one foundation of knowledge that you truly need to succeed: life skills.
You could graduate high school and have the entire periodic table memorized, but have no idea how to do your taxes. You might be proficient in finding derivatives and working with integrals in calculus, but it’s very possible that you still may not know how to change a tire. While it often falls on the parent(s)/guardian of the family to teach their kids these skills, sometimes responsibility can get lost in translation and students could be left without the tools they need to succeed once they graduate high school and/or college.
That is why I am forever grateful for the teachers I’ve had who incorporated simple yet integral life skills into their curriculum. Since everyone was learning at the same time, there was no shame in asking dumb questions or not knowing how to do a skill, and classmates were trying and failing right alongside you the whole time. Everyone was given the chance to develop a skill they needed for the future, regardless of whether they had already learned it at home.
At first it might seem weird to try and fit these types of skills into standard curriculum, and for some subjects it may be near impossible. However, there is no harm in incorporating them even if it doesn’t seem to fit the nature of your class. You could be an English teacher and assign students 5 points for turning in a short paragraph instructing the reader how to do laundry in a step by step manner (hello technical writing skills!). You could be a chemistry teacher and teach a short lesson on the best chemicals/cleaning solutions to use to get out stains or blemishes on clothing. Choosing to incorporate this method provides two benefits to the classroom:
1) Students are better prepared for when they live on their own in ways that they weren’t before.
2) Students learn application examples for material taught in class.
I know how to change a tire because my physics teacher in high school made it an assignment for us all to go home and do it/come back with picture proof as we were learning about torque and force. I know how to do laundry because in seventh grade my health teacher made us all go home and do three loads of laundry with our parents as well as bring back a step by step reflection of what we did. I know how to write checks and keep a checkbook because in fourth grade we learned how to together as a class. I know how to budget money because one of my business classes in high school assigned an in-depth budget project with provided numbers for salary, typical expenses, and emergency expenses. I also know how to give a strong handshake because one of my high school teachers made it an assessment for his class to ensure that we all knew what to do if we went into the corporate world.
I know that I always appreciated assignments like the ones that I named above because I could directly see the way that I would be able to use the knowledge in the future instead of learning about abstract material that was sometimes hard to correlate to real life. I am so thankful for the teachers I’ve had who thought of our best interests this way and who worked toward creating an equitable environment for all of us.
I hope that you found some inspiration for your own classroom in this blog post, and have a wonderful week!