Since I am a former English teacher, it should come as a shock to no one when I say that I love language and books. The way Shakespeare just bounces his words about the page, giving the absurd context and depth, is exciting. When I read an essay or article that deftly goes from point to point while keeping me engaged, I am practically giddy with excitement.
So naturally, I wish that my students will spend their time in my classroom understanding complex texts and being able to write a compelling essay. Everyone remembers the books they read, or were supposed to have read, in school. This basic learning checklist is important, but it's not the only thing that a student should walk away with at the end of the year.
The skills that I hope children learn aren't limited to one grade level and classroom.
The skills that I hope children learn aren't limited to one grade level and classroom. In truth, these are things that get taught in preschool and are continually worked on across all grades and curriculum. It doesn't matter if someone is 5 or 70, these are the real skills being worked on. Yes, all teachers hope that their students will walk away from their classroom with a greater appreciation for specific information, but those factoids are a drop into the bucket compared to what we really hope students learn.
- How to speak up.
Some children embrace the gift of gab, while others either see no point in talking (or are absolutely terrified of it). I'll admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for the talkative bunch because those children are helpful when it comes to running a classroom, but that doesn't mean that they're doing it correctly. In a classroom and in life, it's important to know when and why it's necessary to talk. Just because a student feels inclined to have their voice heard doesn't mean that's the exact right moment or that someone hasn't already said a similar thing. It's a difficult skill to master but an important one to actually get people to listen.
- How to listen to others.
This one's a doozy. If someone's being silent and looking at the person speaking, that doesn't mean that they are listening. Teaching a child to actually listen and not just wait for the other person to stop talking, is really difficult. Essentially, listening requires a foundation of empathy and a basic understanding that someone else, regardless if they know or like the person, is worthy of their time and patience. I never asked that my students agree with what they hear, just that they give their peers and adults the same basic respect that they would expect when they're speaking.
- How to defend your position.
Contrary to seemingly popular belief, yelling your argument or resulting in attacks isn't the best way to get your point across. Yelling may silence others, but it won't change any minds. While my opinions on homework are mixed, I loved assigning essays because this was a real and tangible way to teach children something that would help them later in life. I know that most arguments can't be truncated into a neatly packaged five paragraphs, but learning to back up an argument with evidence rather than opinion is something a lot of people can use a refresher course on.
- That sometimes it's necessary to wait and be bored.
My largest class size that I've had was 35, which was the maximum allowed for my subject. No matter how planned and prepared I was, this meant that students had some wait time. Whether it was waiting for a piece of paper, for me to answer a question, or for their turn to speak, large class sizes forced students into learning that sometimes they just have to be patient. Some children would use wait time to talk to friends, check their phones, or do something else that's completely off task. While I get the desire to be entertained at all times, sometimes you're going to be be bored and have to wait. Therefore, it's important in a classroom setting to learn that it's OK to wait and how to turn that extra time into something productive, like reading quietly or getting ahead on another assignment.
- To embrace the "why."
"Why" is my favorite classroom word because it unlocks an unlimited set of outcomes. "Why" encourages children to dig deeper and learn more. "Why" makes essays stronger. "Why" is the single word that can turn a relatively bored and quiet kid into an impassioned and curious one. "Why" makes them think critically and challenge the world with a thoughtful mind. "Why" is important for every subject and every grade.
- That language is important.
What we say, how we say it, and when we say it can completely change people's opinions of us and be the determining factor in our life. I might be saying the thing that everyone needs to hear, but if my use of language is off-putting, no one will listen. I want students to learn the difficult words and to learn how to play with grammar so that they can be in full control of their thoughts. Language is empowering.
- How to grow from disappointment.
Teachers and school in general ask a lot from their students at any age. When a student puts themselves out there, sometimes the results aren't going to be what was hoped for. I want my students to be resilient, to be able to handle disappointment with aplomb. At the risk of sounding like a motivational poster you see in a counselor's office, I want my students to realize that failure is a brief moment and that what they do after the setback that really matters.