Yesterday my husband and I hosted the annual Reaburn Christmas at our home. My dad’s side of the family is quite varied in terms of career paths ranging from my uncle who is a very successful business man to my cousin who is a very talented farmer with a couple of bankers, an interior decorator and of course a few teachers thrown in for good measure. With that mix, we always have good discussions and on many occasions, the talk invariably makes its way to teaching.
Last night it was actually me who brought up teaching (which is unusual since I try to avoid shop talk on holidays) but I’ve been having an on-going issue trying to engage a boy in my grade nine class. He is of the opinion that he doesn’t need English class because he’s going to be a farmer for life and since he can speak English, he thinks he’s set. I’ve been trying all kinds of approaches to get him to see the importance of being able to communicate effectively and comprehend what he’s reading, but the student really doesn’t feel that my class is important or relevant to his life so I decided to ask my cousin, the farmer. My cousin is quite intelligent and a very shrewd business man, but I remember from high school that English class was not something he enjoyed. My cousin’s suggestion was to talk to him about what he knows and if that means I need to learn about hunting, fishing and farming, then that’s what I have to do. He also said that something he hated about his high school English teachers was that he felt they didn’t respect him as a person or believe that he was intelligent just because he didn’t particularly participate or complete all the work assigned. It makes me sad to hear that a member of my profession can have such a negative impact on a student. It was a good lesson in remembering compassion and respect for other strengths and abilities in students and just that small conversation has caused me to reflect a little more on my classroom practice.
The other really thought provoking part of the evening came from a comment by my grandfather. He is a retired elementary principal and while my cousin and I were discussing the issue with my student, he was listening and reflecting back on his days in administration. Grandpa then told me that when he was a principal, he spent many frustrated hours arguing with secondary principals and teachers about the importance of providing proper education to students who were not planning on attending post secondary. He said that many secondary teachers, in his day, did not see the value in providing education tailored to those students who were heading to the world of work in jobs such as farming or the trades. His comments have had me thinking all day. Has education really not changed that much in the last fifty years? Are we still not doing enough to make education relevant to all our students? What can we do to help these students and how do we show them that they are important members of society and that we respect them? It’s definitely food for thought, but I’m glad to know that I come from a lineage of teachers who fight for their students and are motivated to seek change in our practice.