As I talked about in my last post, I was on a panel for Innovation Diploma at the Atlanta Area Technology Educators (AATE) conference hosted at my school on Friday. While we were preparing for this, we had a document with questions and our answers to those questions on it. The last question on there reads, “Why is it so important for teachers, mentors, and administrators to help you develop your passion? How do students even go about developing passion? What advice would you give to all of us about leading students through a process of developing passion early?”
I feel like this is talked about a lot (at least, it is with the people I’m around the most) and I think it’s about time I give the entirety of my two cents.
So often, people will say that it looks good to colleges for you to have a project you’re passionate about (actually, they say a lot of things look good to colleges and I would like to know exactly how much of it is true because if seemingly everything looks good to colleges, why are we pressured to do only certain things, but that’s an argument for another time), or to future employers, or any one of the many other reasons high schoolers are told to do what they’re told to do. But I think the most important reason (the only reason that matters to me, actually) is to give students a sense of purpose.
In my experience, students are told exactly what steps to take and when to take them to “get the most out of their high school career” or to “look good to colleges” and for all those “I wanted a college that saw me as more than a number” you really start to feel like one. I’ve often heard “You’ll find out why you’re on this Earth when you’re older” (interchangeable with “It will all make sense later”) and “We’re preparing you for life in the real world” (don’t even get me started on why that sentence bugs me so much), but there never seems to be much “You matter now, feel free to find out why, and I’m here to help.”
Often, when students do have a passion, it’s not encouraged in schools. It’s all about “get through the curriculum” and “that’s a waste of time you should be spending on your studies”. Consider the kid that makes high-B’s to low-A’s and could quite honestly care less about school aside from working to get out of it, but if you get her/him talking about cars, her/his eyes light up, and s/he could go on for days about it. Or the one that could spend all day in the art room, theater, gym, computer lab, etc. but can’t because those sorts of programs are being cut (so glad I got out of the public school system before they cut language, art, and music classes).
I know this isn’t all schools/school districts/states/countries, but I really only have my experience, so that’s what I’m going to use (I felt like I couldn’t go any further without a disclaimer). I know some students are lucky enough to have schools that encourage developing passions (me, for example). I know there are some incredible teachers out there who make their students feel like they can do anything they want at any time.
Which is a really good segway into what I want to talk about next: How do students find their passions?
My best advice on helping students is to just be there for them and get to know them. Some of my favorite teachers of all time are the ones that got to know me beyond the class, learned what I liked, sent me random email with links to things to check out, encouraged me to just start doing things, like starting my blog or my Twitter account, and always being there to lend an ear when I wanted to vent about a problem I was having and helping me find a way to fix it.
It has nothing to do with putting them through a fancy program or holding their hand every step of the way or analyzing their progress. Sometimes the things students will be the most passionate about are the things they would never find without someone getting to know them and caring about them.
For example, I probably wouldn’t be nearly as into writing as I am if my fifth grade teacher hadn’t left a comment on one of my papers that I was good at it. I wouldn’t care/know as much as I do about education if it weren’t for my ninth grade history teacher encouraging me to look into it.
So, be there for the students in your life. Get to know them, send them things you think they will find interesting, listen when they’re annoyed, and let them do things by themselves. I know it’s scary, but I also know they’ll get more out of that experience than they ever would in a typical classroom setting. Talk about preparing students for the “real world.”