education, Teacher

Ten Important Lessons I Teach That Aren’t Part of the Core Curriculum

writing100Some folks are predicting that live teachers in classrooms will soon be replaced by disembodied voices over the internet.

I hope that doesn’t happen.

Not because I’m anti-technology or because I want to preserve my job for all eternity, but because so many important things that are taught in schools every day aren’t officially on the curriculum.

I think there are plenty of aspects of grammar or math or science that can be taught on-line. And good teachers can and do access this technology and use it to benefit all students.

But what about the other things? Call them life lessons, if you want. We don’t plan on teaching them but when you deal with children, and people in general, these things come up. And I, for one, am glad they do.

Here are a few of my favorite life lessons

  1. Everyone has strengths and challenges…even teachers. Every year I tell my students the things that I am terrible at. I tell them that my drawing skills are abysmal and that I have absolutely no sense of direction and that I am woefully uncoordinated. Then I tell them that I am good at teaching writing and math and that I will do everything I can to help them have a great year. I tell them that each of them is going to be good at some things and that other things may be more challenging for them. And then I tell them that’s OK. All that matters is that we all try our best.
  2. Equal does not always mean the same. It’s important for kids to know that everyone learns differently and that sometimes other kids will get something they won’t because they need it. That doesn’t make it “not fair”. It just evens out the playing field.
  3. The world is a big place. One year I had two South Korean exchange students. Our social studies curriculum outcome that year was not to learn about South Korea but boy did we. Even showing kids where we are on a map of the big, wide world opens a flood of questions and wonder.
  4. Sometimes we have to work with people we don’t particularly like.  Some people will be bossy and some people will slack off. Some people will fool around and others will work like dogs. It will happen at school and at home and maybe even on your hockey team. It’s a fact of life. Learning how to deal with all different kinds of people is part of leading a successful life.
  5. Tests are no more than a measure of what you are able to express at this particular time in this particular place. They do not measure your worth as a person. A few years ago, I started reading report cards (privately) with my students before they were sent home. Knowing I would have to look into a child’s eyes as they saw their marks and my comments made me more accountable and conscious of what I was writing. When I sit with the student, I explain why I said what I did and why they got the mark that they got. I answer their questions and sometimes dry their tears. And I tell them that this piece of paper in no way measures them as a person. No test can do that.
  6. Respect and manners matter. Like all of us, kids often speak without thinking and sometimes that causes hurt feelings. In a classroom situation, they learn how important it is to be respectful of each other. Helping kids make the classroom a “safe” place to learn and take chances is one of the most important things a teacher can do.
  7. If you can laugh about something, everything is better. Once I sent a student out in the hall for disrupting the class. I told him I would be out in a minute to speak to him…and then…I promptly forgot about him. About 20 minutes (!) later, I went out in the hall to get something and was startled to see him sitting there against the wall. He knew instantly that I hadn’t been coming out to talk to him. “You forgot about me!” he said, incredulously. “No, I didn’t,” I stammered. “I just…I…” He started laughing and pointing at me, “Ohmygod! You forgot me!” I couldn’t fake it anymore. I started to laugh. “I’m sorry! It was just so quiet in there and I…” By this point we were both laughing hysterically – me and a 10-year-old boy who had almost driven me to distraction 20 minutes earlier. I apologized for forgetting him and he apologized for being a pain in the…neck…and the rest of the day was lovely.
  8. When you help out and contribute to making your class YOUR class, you are a part of something bigger than yourself. I generally like to leave some time at the end of every day for clean-up and organizing. Yes, I could do it myself at the end of the day. No, this doesn’t mean I’m a lazy teacher who is trying to race out the door as soon as the bell rings. Children who help keep their classroom neat, tidy, and organized are less likely to throw garbage on the floor or draw on their desks. Children who put their artwork on the walls and their writing on the bulletin boards are more likely to see their classroom as THEIRS. It’s not MY room, it’s OUR room. Hopefully these same kids will transfer this lesson to their home and their community.
  9. Today may have been a difficult day, but (hopefully) tomorrow will be better.* Some days will just not be fun and kids will end up learning a lesson that is not warm and fuzzy. Sometimes other kids will lie to them or be mean to them. Sometimes they will get in trouble for something that wasn’t their fault just because they were hanging out with the wrong people at the wrong time. Sometimes the teacher will get mad at the whole class for “no reason” just because she is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.** And that sucks. But hopefully everyone will learn that these things happen and that it doesn’t make someone good or bad but, rather, human. And that tomorrow will be better.
  10. Grade 4 (or 8 or 12) is a journey, not a destination. To paraphrase the great Steven Tyler, “Life’s a journey, not a destination” and school is a part of life. If every lesson plan is based on preparing for the next test or the next project or the next report card, then we are missing out on an amazing journey. Enjoy the moments. They are what matter.

Now YOU tell ME: If you are a teacher, what are the most important lessons YOU have taught that weren’t part of the curriculum? If you are/were a student, what important lesson did you learn from school that wasn’t part of the regular lesson plan?

“Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” – Lily’s teacher, Mr. Slinger, helps Lily deal with disappointment in the amazing, hilarious Kevin Henke’s book, Lilly’s Plastic Purple Purse. I doubt Mr. Slinger checked that particular goal off any core curriculum outcome.
*“Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” – Lily’s teacher, Mr. Slinger, helps Lily deal with disappointment in the amazing, hilarious Kevin Henke’s book, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. I doubt Mr. Slinger checked that particular goal off any core curriculum outcome.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day - Judith Viorst.
**Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day – Judith Viorst.
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10 thoughts on “Ten Important Lessons I Teach That Aren’t Part of the Core Curriculum”

  1. I remember in high school, I learned more in my AP English class not because we had more work, but from the discussions that were not planned, that the teacher let us instigate, and talk about the whole period. We had to relate it to something we were learning, however we were all glad to use it to get out of classwork. We took the ideas so many places we never would have gone with a straight curriculum.

  2. I have had a couple of wonderful teachers in my life. One in particular. I may have said before. He taught me Irish. I was only fair at the language, but he taught me about culture and our heritage. He made us all love the richness of irish. As a result my children have old Irish names, went to an Irish speaking school and are fluent speakers. So in a small way he has helped to keep our language alive. I would love you to be teaching my children. You can see the big picture.

  3. Lesson 1: this room is a safe place. The world isn’t always safe…. From hurt feelings, from bullying, from homophobia, racism or just plain rudeness. This room, this boundary within these four walls, is a safe zone. Everyone is welcome and everyone is respected. And there are NO exceptions.

  4. What a wonderful, timely post! thank you!
    The lessons that mean the most to me, in my fifth grade classroom, are the ones about learning to speak up/not speak up/ask for help/solve it by yourself/give in/hold your ground. None of these are in the “Core Curriculum” or on any report card, but they are the lessons that will see my students through in the future.

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