Last week my school gave parents an opportunity to meet with teachers. In my halting, broken Spanish I dispensed with as many suggestions as possible for the handful of parents who visited. I talked about the importance of homework and reading every day. I talked about ways parents could help their kids learn basic math facts and practice telling time and counting money. I threw a lot of ideas out, and it might have been overwhelming.
Before I let the parents go, I tried to emphasize something more important than all the little ways they could help at home. I tried to add one last message, in my stilted Spanish: “Yo quiero los ninos a aprender como… encantar… aprendiendo.” I want the kids to learn how to love learning.
This is the essential challenge of my teaching this year. It has always been a focus of my teaching, but it feels especially urgent this year. Perhaps it’s tied to the rocky start I’ve had to the school year. As I’ve struggled through several lessons with an especially talkative and inattentive group of students, I can tell that nobody’s enjoying themselves. The best parts of my day have been when a mess of students are struggling to control themselves and can’t wait to share their ideas. It can be frustrating when students forget to raise their hand, but it’s also a sign that they’re excited. It’s this excitement about learning I want to cultivate in every subject, every day.
But I also feel a sense of urgency because lately I don’t hear anyone talking about this. From the highest levels down to the discussions I’ve been a part of, this topic seems absent from so many conversations about education reform and student achievement. You will hear words like data, performance standards and intervention to no end, but rarely will you hear anyone ask, “Do our students love to learn?”.
Ultimately, it’s important to me, because I know it’s the only way my students will have a chance to succeed. I may not get all my students to grade level within the next nine months, but if I can implant them with a drive and desire to learn, then they will find a way to catch up. Conversely, if I somehow got all my students to grade level, but crushed the love of learning out of them in the process, as soon as they left my classroom their development would end.
I understand completely the importance of data and other trendier concepts to the 21st-century classroom, and I use them fully. But we cannot create the next generation of innovators, inventors, or entrepreneurs anywhere, let alone the poorest neighborhoods, without creating a sustainable thirst for knowledge within our students. Love of learning and “college and career readiness” are not mutually exclusive, but rather are deeply intertwined. I wonder about ways to achieve this synergy, whether through more engaging instruction or more field trips. And as I think about my own commitment to simultaneously helping my students to learn and helping them to love learning, I wonder why we don’t hear more voices acknowledging that both are vital to our children’s education.