For more than 10 years, I taught high school English. Along the way I taught writing and peace studies in college.
I enjoyed teaching. I liked the students. I got along with other teachers and college faculty. I sometimes taught classes with other teachers, at both high school and college.
I always said teaching is the greatest profession. It’s simple: A teacher can make a difference in the lives of other people.
Lately, I’ve been disappointed that so many young people seem to have missed some basic lessons. I’m not referring to a failure to find the square root of big numbers or shortcuts to memorizing the Gettysburg Address.
The lessons I have in mind are those that help you get along with other people, fellow workers, family members and friends.
We all know people with troubled relationships. The list of divorce filings in Tuesday’s paper hints at the numbers of people that affects. Then, judging by the daily crime reports, some people haven’t learned out to stay out of trouble with the law.
Behind both divorce filings and crime reports, you know the personal stories are sad, sometimes tragic. Often, a divorce or a crime hurts a lot of people. Need I mention the social costs?
If I were to return to teaching today, I’d be sure to spend class time on two essential life skills. The first would be how to get along with other people. The second would be how to stay out of trouble with the law.
I know what my approach would be, too.
There would be no textbook. There would be no worksheets. There would be no long out-of-class assignments. As the teacher, I wouldn’t make up the lessons.
Rather, I’d invite students to bring case studies gleaned from their own reading or from stories in real life. That would include stories from relatives, neighbors and newspaper accounts. If relatives and neighbors, the rule would be no names allowed.
Or, I’d welcome them to invent case studies, providing enough detail is in the case to give it real-life complexity.
As the teacher, I wouldn’t lecture. I might add to the case study other cases that I
Students would lead the discussion of the cases. They would be invited to tell what mistakes people in these cases made and what things those persons did right. My job as teacher would be to keep the discussion going and push the class toward conclusions.
We might take field trips to a courtroom to observe a criminal trial. I’m skeptical, though, that a visit to a jail or prison would persuade any potential juvenile offender to take the straight and narrow. Rather, I’d put my faith mostly in classroom discussions.
My goal with such teaching would be broader than helping students stay out of a bad marriage. It would be much broader helping them avoid jail and prison.
I readily concede that most marriages don’t end in divorce. Most students avoid trouble with the law.
Let’s say, though, I’m able to help only a few students stay married. Let’s say, my kind of classroom only deters a handful of students from committing a crime. Still, that’s a plus.
But I think my teaching style here benefits every student. Why am I so confident of this? It’s because every student benefits from learning how to think things through. Call it creative problem solving. Call it critical thinking.
Such skills help you evaluate the claims of sales persons for their products. These skills help you discern the truth from the exaggerations of political candidates. Thinking skills are useful in making every kind of daily decision.
If applying such skills becomes a habit, you’re more likely to stay out of trouble with the law and with everyone else. I believe, in fact, that applying good thinking skills will make you a happier person.
If I were a teacher again, that would be the main curriculum.