It’s everything that the rest of the American education system isn’t. When I walked into the classroom the first day with an extensive syllabus that had quizzes and graded lecture notes and tests and presentations, it took me five minutes before I realized I was going to have to shred it and start from scratch.
Students are tired of the American lecture. Bullet points from a textbook that teaches teachers how to teach. On the first day of a class you would never throw a 500 page textbook at your students and say “read this, there will be a test at the end of the semester.” However, every lesson that has ever been taught has been a teacher extracting the hour and a half of knowledge from an Oxford Science book and putting it on the whiteboard. Sure, it may be slightly more intuitive for students to learn from a lecture then reading a textbook chapter, but for all intents and purposes it’s the same thing. And my class was on the path to be just like that.
That’s why I knew from five minutes after the bell rang that the class would have to change. Instead of teaching a class about how to be creative and become a self starter, I had to be a facilitator for creativity and creation. This class has never been taught before, therefore I thought that the best way to help my students become better people was by first imparting some knowledge I had picked up from my own successes with running Cards Cook and then giving students the time and tools they needed to go out and build something.
The hardest thing I have found to do in my first three weeks as a teacher has been to force consistency within my class. In the age where technology claims our attention away from the matter at hand every time the screen lights up, it is so challenging for students to stay focused on a project. Teenagers have a burning desire to start things, scorching creativity to think about the future, but also an immature nature that forces them to work on all their possible ideas at once. Forcing these kids to stay on one project requires coming to the situation from an unbiased side, and then carefully manipulating the student to change their point of view.
I’ll give you an example.
I have this one student, lets call her Samantha. Sam is incredibly bright. She has thousands of ideas, all ideas in the top fifty percent (see previous article). These are ideas that can be done, achieved, completed. And they all are ideas that can help people. Her brain is in the right spot. Her first idea was to create a nonprofit that sets up care packages to protect the safety of homeless women. Each of these care packages will have things that women can be use to fight disease and men alike. From pepper spray to martial arts tips to sanitary napkins, these kits would be handed out at homeless shelters around Portland.
I thought this idea was amazing. She could work hard, get a lot done in one semester, put in some work after and come out with a project that not only helped people but also looked awesome on a college app.
The next class, she comes into talk to me and her idea has totally changed. Her new idea which dealt with film classes for the underprivileged was another great idea. It was doable and would help a lot of people. It was creative and practical. But it was distracting from another idea. Both may have measured the same in quality, but if I had allowed her to consider both options, neither project would be completed. She would eternally live in a split reality, a “what if?” environment which is poison to a startup.
In our following discussions, I had to tell her which idea I thought she should stick to. I told her why I thought the box for women would be better. I walked her through problems that she would face in both companies. And then I told her to pick. I told her that after she picked, she could not work on the other project in this class. I then pulled the classic teacher move of saying that if she tried to do both, her grades in this class would suffer. Okay fine. This is not the brilliant teacher/student manipulation that I mentioned I was able to do. Frankly, it was an annoying teacher move, one that is constantly being pulled. But it worked. She took my advice and chose the box, but not before telling me that she thought I was being a little too harsh.
I was not.
High school students are the least focused people on the universe. They can come up with brilliant ideas until the cows come home, but what separates a successful person and a regular mortal is a person’s ability to give a big middle finger to all the ideas in your head except for that one idea which you devote your life to. I will wave your grade in front of your face all day if it means you will be that much better than your peers. You will thank me later. Or not. Either way, you will learn the habit to stick with the present work, and never settle for anything but your mission.