How often in your educational experience did you wonder, "When am I ever going to use this?" As an educator, this is the dreaded question. It questions the relevance of what we do; challenging us to identify how our teaching is preparing our students for their futures. Many teachers hate this question, but it is an important one that we should be willing to ask ourselves and that we should be ready to answer when working with our students, their families, and our communities.
We live in a constantly changing world, and education needs to reflect the pace at which the world moves. The reality of our world is that nobody can predict what the future will look like. We can't group our students into traditional careers like accountants, auto mechanics, and teachers. The top 10 fastest growing jobs in 2012 did not exist in 2004. With the exponential changes we are seeing in technology, all current projections have similar expectations for the next 10 years. Our old ways of preparing students for the future need to change. In many ways, they already have.
As educators, we need to inspire and empower our students to be the citizens, stewards, and leaders that our communities need in order to face the challenges of this century. This means engaging in projects and learning experiences that immerse our kids in their communities- learning from experts and working together to solve real-world problems. If we want students who have a creative ability to think "outside of the box", then we need to question why their education only happens "in a box"?
Many of the recent shifts in education in our state- Personalized Learning Plans, Flexible Pathways to Graduation, and the adoption of the Common Core State Standards- acknowledge that we should be emphasizing skills, not content; and student engagement, rather than conformity. Regardless of what their career choices might be, there are certain skills and aptitudes that they will need to master. For example, it doesn't matter if you are a lawyer in a courtroom, a businessperson giving a pitch, or a contractor giving an estimate, you will need to be persuasive and you will need to have evidence to support your claim. You will also need to be an effective communicator and willing to work with a wide range of people. These are things we all know and expect in the workforce. These are also skills that we are explicitly teaching in our schools.
The face of education is changing, as is the role of the teacher. With students designing projects ranging from trail networks to outdoor classrooms to greenhouses for our school gardens, I can't expect to teach them everything they need to know about their topic. I can, however, put them in touch with experts in each field, giving my students a chance to engage with professionals, to work on meaningful projects, and to develop skills that they can apply across a broad range of possible careers. This is where the village comes in.
For too long, the responsibility of preparing our children for the future has been shouldered too heavily by the education system. We need the support of our communities in order to give our students the opportunities that they will need in order to lead successful and engaged adult lives. For businesses, this means opening your doors to interns and giving them an opportunity to see what will be expected of them in the future. For professionals, it means being willing to share your expertise with students who have an interest in learning more about what you do. For all of us, it means recognizing the fact that the most important job any of us can ever have is in making sure that we are preparing our children, as best we can, for the future paths that they will take.
Luke Foley, of Warren, is the 2014 Vermont Teacher of the Year and STAR Alternative Program teacher at Northfield High School.