The purpose of school

What is the purpose of school? Despite the fact that this is my fifth year of teaching, this question, when posed to me in my administration program, sent my head for a spin. Topics bombarded me with an unrelenting urgency: subject matter, pedagogy, English, behavior plans, math, citizenship, science, basic survival skills. I quickly realized just how much teaching entails.

In furthering my research, I decided to go to the most honest human beings I know, my middle-school students. I asked them a series of questions through a journal entry, which included what they thought the purpose of school was, why they think we teach the things we do in school, and what they wish they ideally learned in school.

For the most part, the students’ overall answers were that the purpose of school is to become educated so they can go to college and get a decent job. Some of them did say that they thought the purpose was to know about world events and other topics they will undoubtedly need to know while they inhabit this planet.

However, many students didn’t really seem to answer why they thought we taught certain subjects in school. The ones who did address this topic mentioned the importance of literacy, and almost all the other answers were geared toward how we needed to first learn how to succeed in junior high and high school before we enter college and careers.

Students also expressed interest in, for lack of a better term, basic survival skills. Would they be good parents one day; how do they pay rent; what do they do when their heart gets broken for the first time. Many of these questions made me realize why I became a teacher – to be there for these kids.

The one that seemed to tug at me the most, however, was a student who shared that she wished teachers would spend more time helping kids find their passion. She expressed that there is so much that goes on within the school day, that sometimes she feels overwhelmed and struggles with finding something at which she can excel. I found this to be a very insightful and interesting answer for a seventh-grade girl. Perhaps she was articulating something that her classmates also longed for but were either too shy or not quite self-aware enough yet to realize.

It is moments like these that make me feel that we receive just as much as we give in teaching. I took this amazing insight from a student and reevaluated the way I approach my teaching. Of course the academic side of teaching will always be a priority to me in my classroom. I will continue to teach kids the essentials in how to navigate our school systems and become college and career ready. It is simply my approach that will change.

I am hoping that with Common Core coming into play, students will have a better chance to think and have opportunities to expand and explore their own interests. It is now a goal of mine, and I hope of other teachers as well, to help kids feel inspired in school.

I hope that students find relief in filling out fewer bubble tests and digging deeper into passionate and critical thinking. As a result of this new approach, my hope is that every student will leave my classroom feeling that they have not only learned the skills they need to move on to high school, but also feel confident in asserting themselves as individuals in the real world.

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Chrissy Towner teaches leadership and RSP language arts at Altimira Middle School.  She is currently enrolled in Sonoma State’s administrative credential program.