Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What Do Our Students Need? by Andrew Jobson

What do our students need?

Like most teachers, I would think, I have pondered endlessly the question of what my students most need.  Of course (I say) they need to read and write well, and of course they need to understand the past of our nation and our world, both to understand why our country functions as it does and to learn from the successes and mistakes of our forebears.

The list keeps getting longer, though.  I have seen a few different articles recently that reinforce this concern.  While it’s not a new issue, I came across an article in our local paper about the need for “soft skills” among today’s students—simple things like the importance of showing up on time and meeting deadlines, of attitude and dependability.  The article mentioned prospective employees who had absolutely no idea how to manage an interview successfully, who showed up in pajamas or wearing clothing with controversial images like marijuana leaves.  I think my school does a good job in some of these areas, but there is more that can be done.  Having recently been appointed to the self-study committee for our re-accreditation, I intend to raise this issue for our future planning.

There is yet another issue that was more surprising to me.  A fellow teacher, preparing to teach Shakespeare’s As You Like It to a group of senior boys, found an article on the “hook-up culture” that has emerged and dominated millennials (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/fashion/the-end-of-courtship.html).  Essentially the writer argues that young men either don’t know how to date or don’t see the need for it.  

“Dates” have been replaced by “hanging out,” usually with minimal advance notice or planning.  While I think I was vaguely aware of this, I was appalled by the lack of respect indicated toward young women and dismayed that so many of them seem to have accepted the new circumstances.  I understand that women are more financially independent and that times are tough, but I would still expect men to follow the courteous rules of courtship—even the rejection I experienced at times was a good learning experience.  I would like to think that fathers are training their own sons in this, but I’m not sure I did enough with my own 19-year-old, and I know there are plenty of boys whose fathers are physically or emotionally absent and won’t be able to provide this perspective.

I sometimes criticize myself for straying “off-topic” in class, for taking a few minutes to diverge from the course material and focus on how the ideas have affected my own life or can affect theirs—but I think more and more that this is where the “real” education happens.  They may not remember Sonnet 75 or the Wade-Davis Bill, but I know a lot remember life lessons; they’ve come back to tell me so.  While I am striving to build good writers and readers, my primary duty is to build good men.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends.  Once more.”

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.