I have been back in the classroom as a teacher for half a year now, so I have had plenty opportunity to become reacquainted with young adults. I watch my students interact with peers, express their opinions, and discuss all sorts of life issues. It led to a moment of reflection as I wondered: what would I really like my students to learn?
I sat down to put this reflection into words, and considered the 5 main qualities I hope my students will practise.
School is more than a subject
School is more than a subject. I don’t just want to teach my students the English language, I want them to be able to use this language as a tool for many other valuable skills. In fact, it is these skills that I truly find interesting for my students to practise.
#1 Critical thinking skills
Shockingly, I have had the realisation that my students are actually still very young, and, as bright as they may be, they clearly do not have all the tools yet to offer a fully formed critical opinion. It needs practice. Somehow their youthful responses came as a surprise to me, because the age gap between us is relatively small. However, it is this process of developing a view on the world that is one of my favourite things about teaching young adults. It is, at the core, the reason why I went into education.
Fortunately my place of work views critical thinking skills just as valuable, and I think a major part of our English programme lends itself well to encouraging students to develop this quality. It is really exciting to see students at work and to be able to prompt them to dig deeper for a well-informed opinion.
#2 World citizenship
Having spent a few years abroad (I don’t think I will ever shut up about it), I came to see the great value of seeing yourself as part of the larger community, rather than just a citizen of your own country. I would like my students to know that you can go anywhere you want, and going abroad where you can exchange views with other internationals is one of the most educational experiences you could have. There is so much to learn from others, for example observations they may have of cultural values and national attitudes. One of the most interesting conversations I have ever had was about what you needed to do to get a driver’s license in each person’s respective countries. Even the most seemingly insignificant topics can lead to wonderful enlightening conversations!
It makes me very happy that we’ve got a great mix of students, including internationals, at our school. However, I have also noticed there’s a fair bit of privilege amongst these young people. In line with the yet to be improved critical thinking skills, students sometimes really struggle to understand other people’s perspectives. In fact, they sometimes do not consider them at all.
I have read essays that suggested
“Are you obese? Don’t be!”;
or blandly stated
“Schools shouldn’t admit students with mental health issues for safety reasons.”
Notions like these shocked me to a certain extent. I know my students have the brains to solve all sorts of complicated issues, but when it comes to empathy, they still have a lot to learn. If these kids are going to be valuable assets to the world, I hope they practise it with compassion. I hope they will see the value of stepping into another person’s shoes and considering others’ perspectives.
The English language may be our tool for conversation; literature may be our prompt for conversation.
One of the best things about teaching is when you get to see your students curious. Of course, as teachers, it is part of our job to illicit such a response, but I also hope for my students to keep tickling their natural curiosity.
Most of all, I hope they will find their interests and commit to them. When I was a teen, I thought adults were a bit boring because they often didn’t have similar interests. However, now that I am older, I can see I haven’t become dull, it’s just that I have learned to commit to the things that I truly find interesting. I have also learned to put the things I don’t care about aside.
I would love to see my students sort out their true interests and keep asking the ever-old-question: why? To keep digging for the underlying reasons, do the research, consider all the outcomes critically. All in all, to enjoy and explore their interests as much as they like.
Teens can be very committed to a task and determined to reach a certain goal, but I would like them to know that determination can take other forms, too. Simply by choosing your own way of doing things, you can determine your own future.
I never considered myself a particularly ambitious person. I just did what I thought logical: I graduated secondary school, and then the sensible next step was uni. Because I wanted to be a fully-qualified teacher, I always knew I was going to do a master’s. It was merely coincidence that I stumbled across a course abroad.
What I have learned from this, is that you can do lots of things whichever way you want. I never dared to dream big, but I ended up doing pretty big things anyway. Likewise, my friend Nele showed you can sort out your own dreams and wishes.
In conclusion, I hope my students will see that you really can do anything you set your mind to. I hope we may encourage them to tread their own paths, and that they should really just go for what they want!
What are the most valuable skills you learned in school or university?
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