By Raena Doty
As someone working toward a minor in secondary education, I notice deeply what teachers say about students and what students say about teachers.
I’ve heard a lot of things.
Students are less disciplined than they used to be.
It only takes a good teacher to bring out the best in students.
No one wants to do hard things anymore.
Teachers demand too much of students.
I’ve noticed two growing movements in the field of education, which, under the current system for all levels of education, cannot coexist.
One, students should come out of school - particularly high school, but postsecondary as well - with all the tools they may need in life.
Two, students should not be miserable in their educational experience. Education should not be a punishment or a privilege, but a right - and human rights need to be inclusive of all humans.
The second one in particular is deeply rooted in anti-racist and anti-ableist movements. If education does not include people of color and people of different abilities, it will reinforce oppressive systems.
I believe in and care deeply about both these movements. I want to integrate both of them into my own pedagogy. However, every time I think about it, I don’t think it’s possible.
How is it reasonable to expect a person who’s barely reached the age of majority to understand everything they might need for the future?
How can teachers support this without piling on a workload too heavy for students’ mental, socio-emotional, and physical health?
When student needs are not met, often it is the teachers who are blamed. And while teachers have significant power over student lives, no doubt, it’s also unfair to expect a teacher to complete a Sisyphean task and blame them for not completing it.
Ultimately, I think the solution to the problem is twofold.
One, allow more time for education. This may be especially accomplished by lessening the costs of postsecondary education, including colleges, universities, and trade schools, but extending the amount of time considered normal in high school settings could also be very effective.
Two, perhaps more importantly, we need to reconceptualize what we mean when we say someone received a complete education. After all, education can never be “complete.” There are always more things to learn, to do.
Complete education cannot mean acquiring all information which one may need for the rest of their lives. After all, the world changes - new science is studied, new laws come to pass, new literature is written - especially in a world that shifts as fast as our own.
Rather, a complete education should mean students have the tools to continue studying independently for as long as they need.
A high school student does not have the time to study in-depth the history of every country in the world, but any country may go through unrest or become politically significant at any time, and functioning citizens should be able to study any country’s history in case it becomes relevant.
Same goes for science, English, math, arts - students should be able to continue their studies past teacher guidance, there should be no expectation for students to know everything coming out of high school, and society should encourage self-education done right.
Though, as I said before, teacher guidance shouldn’t have an expiration date - or a hefty paywall past the age of 18 - the way it does now.
In the meantime, it’s important to remember the system in place is stressful on everyone - students, teachers, parents, and administrators alike.
While there will always be a world of difference between a good teacher and a bad one, there’s also no way for everyone to come out satisfied. And in trying to make change, solidarity between people hurt by the system is much more important than placing blame on other people hurt by it.