My favorite part of being an educator is seeing my students become successful adults. My former students have become parents, nuclear engineers, nurses, mechanics, teachers, and more. If I can have even a small part in their transition to adulthood, I consider that a great accomplishment.
To encourage this transition into adulthood, I use the following techniques in my classroom:
While it’s necessary to learn the curriculum and subject matter in the classroom, I believe it’s just as necessary for my students to discover more about themselves. As an English teacher, I have the advantage of having my students write about themselves.
At the start of the year, I ask my students to write me a letter about who they are, and ask them to repeat the assignment at the end of the year. More often than not, they are shocked after comparing their letters and realizing how much they have learned about themselves and evolved over the year.
Inform the whole person, not just the intellectual
At the end of the day, I ultimately want my students to leave my class as better people. To bring conversations about morality and civility into the classroom, I structure my AP class around overarching philosophical questions. Some of the questions we keep in mind when walking through the literature include:
- What harsh truths do you prefer to ignore?
- Is free will real or just an illusion?
- Does fate exist? Is so, do we still have free will?
- What should be the goal of humanity?
- Is there a meaning to life? If so, what is it?
- Is suffering a necessary part of the human condition? What would people who never suffered be like?
- Will religion ever become obsolete?
By discussing these questions in the context of a literary work, my students are better able to connect the literature to their beliefs and realities. I always encourage my students to debate openly and honestly, without judgement or disrespect.
In these discussions, I often play devil’s advocate to push them to think deeper about their own thoughts and opinions.
Teach for real life, not standardized tests
Teachers, understandably, often feel pressure to focus on standardized tests and exams – but this should not limit or dictate what our students learn.
Although I want my students to be prepared for their AP exams, it’s more beneficial for them to actually be prepared to produce college-level work, than to simply pass one test for a couple credits. My focus is always on creating critical readers and excellent writers – skills that will take them farther than any exam score (and should prepare them for the exam anyway).
I also assign projects that adequately prepare students for the types of assignments they’ll receive in college. For example, towards the end of every school year, my classes complete a project about the human condition in art. To supplement this, I’ve taken my students to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Any museums have online exhibits and tours as well so if a trip is out of the question, try a virtual one
Even if my students pursue a career outside of literature or the arts, I know there are things I can do in my classroom to help them on their path to success. One of my former students—a nuclear engineer—visited and told me that a book I taught in my class changed his life. And that’s all I can ask for as an educator.