Monday, June 22, 2009

I am An Optimist

I've got a problem. In today's climate of education, it can be very easy to focus the short comings of teachers, and students. I feel like many of the educators I know in my life, have a grim outlook on the direction that education is heading. In conversations, I often find myself being the person that is defending the future of education, and thus I become labeled an "optimist". I feel like today's educational system, teachers, and students are not given enough credit. While it's easy to focus on the negatives, I still hold the view that there is a ton positives going on around us today.

Today I heard an educator presenting a case to other teachers that we need to force our students to be more realistic about their future. This person continued to say "not everyone is going to be a doctor....we need to stop letting them think they will be." I really took offense to this statement.
I believe that we should not try to stifle our student's dreams, but rather encourage them to dream.
As educators, we like to believe we are an excellent at assessing talent and ability in our students, but why do we feel the need to tell students what is best for them? While I do believe that teachers serve as a valuable resource for students, I hate to hear teachers try to label how successful or non-successful they will be. Sometimes we see that those students we attach the non-successful labels to, sometimes they turn out to prove us wrong by breaking the mold.
I am one of those students.
Throughout my high school career I was very underachieving, and that's putting it nicely, I did not fit into the mold of the normal student. An appropriate label for me with have been amount to nothing. I come from a single parent house-hold, grew up in poverty, received free and reduced lunch from k-12, did not hold a high value on education, and did not believe in myself. I said that to say this, if I would have bought into the idea that I could only live up to a certain level of potential that was pre-determined by my environment, I would have never received the education that I have now and would not have the quality of life that I now have.

I believe that we tend to sell our students short on their ability. I am reminded of an old saying that was offered to me as advice when I was a department store salesmen in college.
Don't put a price limit on what the customer can buy.
Meaning, don't sell the customer something cheap because you think they can't afford it, always offer them a variety of options. I think this relates to the world of education very well, it is not our job to put a limit on what our students are capable of doing. It is our job to provide them with opportunities to obtain success.

So....what's the point? Not trying to be negative, nor am I looking for a platform to air my disapproval. As I have stated before, I am very much an optimist and I do believe there is a lot of positive progress that is happening all around me. I see college professors that are jumping on education + technology movement (see Dr. Pijanowski & Dr. Strange). I am also seeing that there are TONS of other teachers out there that are striving to become more than just a normal teacher. Lastly, I know that I cannot control the entire world of education but I can control my Sixth Grade World that I teach, and I will choose to stay positive.

Mr. McClung


Jarrod Lamshed said...

This fits in nicely with my last post. It's so important to keep being positive and to not get tied up on labels and other people's expectations. A great post. It's great to see that you are willing to put yourself out there and draw on your life experiences. A lot of us aren't willing to do that.

John Strange said...

My mother was a follower of Norman Vincent Peale and was convinced that "The Power of Positive Thinking" was underestimated. I confess that my cynicism sometimes gets the better of me (I am more than 3 times as old as your are Joe - that could be a bit of an explanation), but when I am reminded of the importance of positive attitudes - and not doing what others have decided for you to do (a second important point of your post), my enthusiasm for life and learning is again fired up.

This morning, as I was walking, I was listening to The Element by Sir Ken Robinson which Jarrod Lamshed brought to my attention. The chapter I listened to today dealt with the importance of not letting others steer you away from your passion - your element.

Your optimism, your encouragement to students to seek their passion (or "element") is so important. Your students as very lucky to have you as a teacher!

Wm Chamberlain said...

The best remedy for being pessimistic is spending time with my students. Regardless of their home life, they never cease to surprise me with their passions and talents. While it may be true that their focus is not always on our "curriculum", that doesn't mean they don't have a desire to learn new things. A student that may never turn in his/her math assignments may know everything about Pokemon or Naruto. While we may not consider this important content, it is important to that student.

I would suggest that any teacher that is pessimistic about a student's future doesn't know that student well enough. Consider it a failing of the teacher, not the student. It isn't our calling to judge a student's worth, but to help that student realize it.