Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Defense of Today

Today we spend a great deal of time talking about what’s needed for tomorrow. For as much as we proclaim “carpe diem”, we frequently miss the moments of now, especially in interacting with our students.

When I was a young mom, nap times were precious moments of the day because they were the few minutes I could spend being productive. One day, when my daughter was a few months old, I caught myself wishing away the playful waking moments with her in anticipation of the next window of time I could get to work on my to-do list. I remember with pristine clarity the realization that I was wishing away the most precious time, an obvious conclusion but nonetheless an epiphany of sorts that day.

I thought of this moment after hearing several times today and over the last week echos of the same sentiment with respect to student preparation in life. Elementary school teachers are worried about preparing students for middle school, and middle school teachers worried about preparing students for high school. Why do we give so much homework and enforce an unforgiving calendar of due dates for high school students? To prepare them for college of course. In fact, we are preparing students for the whole 21st Century lest they be lost in the amorphous demands of the future “work force”!

Admittedly,  it is critical to prepare our students for their futures, but are we willing to sacrifice today’s victory in the name of preparation? I can’t count how many variations of this statement I have heard from teachers: “They can’t (insert prepare longer for a test, turn in an assignment late, have optional homework) because they won’t be able to handle it when it really gets tough in (insert middle/high school, college, etc).” This argument is fallacious for several reasons, the first of which is developmental. If students are in high school, they are not in college yet. They do not have the same skill set, maturity level, flexible schedule, etc. as a college student. Moreover, it’s not even a true statement. We all know that leniency and workload of any class varies per teacher, and further, that as adults we are rarely placed in a comparably inflexible environment as most traditional schools, at least not at the highest professional levels to which we hope our students aspire. 

But, I digress. I don’t really have an issue with tomorrow’s preparation until it encroaches on today’s success. And by success, I mean the ability of a child to recognize value in a learning exchange and seize it, to recognize his or her own talent and capitalize on it, and to realize they have their teacher on their side. These are the successes that ultimately build our future successes. Even in our work lives, we work harder when we feel connected to people and believe that our talents are maximizing our success. We want to do more of what we think we are good at and have the potential of being great at. If my only measure of being a decent writer was whether I may be able to write the “next American classic”, I would never pen a blog. Someone, at some point, liked only one sentence, one essay I wrote and it stuck. If a child is continuously inundated with messages about measuring up to the next level, when does he or she get to enjoy the comforts of now?

Although I missed tonight’s #edchat, I caught the archive on 21st century skills development, and my favorite post of the night was offered by @johntspencer who wrote, “I’m less interested in ‘21st century’ than timeless and enduring.” You know what is timeless and enduring? Connection, to others and to one’s own potential as they augment with time. At the risk of sounding hopelessly Kumbaya, I will end with my daily source of inspiration when I feel daunted by tomorrow’s demands. There is a wonderful song by the Dave Matthews Band called “Everyday”, the lyrics of which serve as the right call to action with my students each day. “Pick me up, oh, from the bottom; Up to the top, love, everyday.”

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