In my most recent trip to Target, I noticed a new section had popped up: the Back-To-School section.
While I felt personally attacked, I also felt … so much joy. I’m definitely not ready to give up free summer movies from my local movie theater or impromptu daytime trips with my toddler to look at dinosaurs at the science museum.
I better get ready, though, since August first is around the corner. No, I may not be quite ready to give up all the sweet, sticky post ice-cream afternoon snuggles, but I am really excited to share my love of the Russian Revolution with another group of kids who haven’t seen the Rasputin video yet. I’m really excited to see kids I loved last year and to get to see how they’ve grown over the summer. I’m really excited to tell my students about some of the new things I learned from my trip to the UK and the books I’ve been reading.
As we approach a new school year, hurtling toward us whether or not we are ready for it, it is the perfect time to think about the eternal question:
Why do we teach?
And a little bit more specific for this community, why do we put ourselves through the never-ending grading and preparing and the will they, won’t they breath-holding of teaching AP? The world, our school boards, and the College Board strive to answer those questions, and their answers all hold some truth; and perhaps, as we muddle through these disparate whys, we can piece together a purpose that will take us through the August “this could have been an email” meetings until we get to the good stuff – the young minds we are molding.
Education is training for the workforce.
This is my least favorite reason for education. Mostly because it is thrown in my face approximately once a year by a kid who wants to be a doctor so doesn’t understand why he has to read about the Peterloo Massacre in an elective that he chose to take. But look, there is some truth to it.
On the surface, there is ample evidence that a high school diploma (and even more so, a bachelor’s degree) leads to increased financial earning power over a lifetime. However, regardless of the field a student chooses, there are skills they learn in your class that will help them.
My kids who want to do scientific research will forever need to be able to clearly explain themselves in writing, and my research paper assignment builds that skill. The future lawyers in my class are definitely preparing for law school with the amount of reading I require. Future artists may be inspired by something we study and are able to explain where their art fits in the artistic arch of the world based on our discussions in AP European and World History.
Even though it sometimes seems we are not teaching our students content easily and directly applied to their future occupations (unless they want to be a European history professor, in which case THEY ARE WELCOME), they are practicing skills they will apply to their daily lives.
Secondary education prepares students for college… and then the workforce.
This reason is absolutely connected to the first. It’s also a fair explanation for why AP classes, even individually, are important to a student’s education.
Every AP teacher and AP student goal is to pass the AP exam, but if a student doesn’t even take the test, AP classes offer a level of academic rigor that prepares kids to be successful in higher education. According to research from the College Board, students who take an AP class are (1) more likely to perform better in related college courses, (2) are more likely to graduate from college in four years, and (3) increases success in low-socioeconomic groups.
Every year in my AP European history classes, students embark on a year-long research topic that they turn into a research paper. By May, my students have written 8-15 pages on a college level about a historical topic of their choice. And in addition, if I’m being honest, grading the rough drafts takes me about 4 million years and makes me want to gouge my own eyes out.
Every year, I think of making my life easier and cutting the assignment… and every year I receive an email from a former student on how that assignment prepared them for a similar paper in college. Fun fact: this is the goal for us AP teachers: to give kids tools they can use to tackle harder things in their educational future!
From writing thesis statements to defending an argument with evidence, we are setting them up for success at the next step, and that is a great reason to keep teaching.
Education – a good one – creates well-rounded people.
Ah, here we are. Getting to the “let’s make a movie starring Denzel Washington about an inspiring teacher” reasons for teaching. This is my core reason. Honestly, I can barely remember what happened to France between Napoleon and World War II, so I don’t know if it’s that important that my students remember the Third Republic for their whole lives, either. I know some of them aren’t that interested in the content of my class and I also know that some of them won’t ever use that content once they leave my room.
As my department head once said, “the fundamental truth of education [is] that as much as our kids might be learning the content of our classes, what they are really learning about is who they are and how they want to engage this world… Amazing history classes […] teach students the why behind the world in which we live so that they can see how they might make their impact when they step into it. And, that that impact doesn’t start later; it starts NOW.”
And while these words were said about a history class, they are true about all our classes. If we can make kids think about the science and math behind the world we live in, if we can make them feel a poem or a novel, if they learn to question the world — then we’re doing a good job as educators.
Well-rounded people connect and understand each other better, which ultimately makes our world a more empathetic one.. a better one.
Heck, I even picked my tattoo artist based on a conversation about my favorite Art Nouveau artist, Mucha.
Maybe I’ve been watching too many Denzel movies, but it’ll be this pie in the sky dream — of creating interesting, caring, and well-rounded adults — that will get me through boring meetings and hours grading research papers. Maybe watch a couple, then join me and Denzel.