The question that I hear as an educator–the one thing I am asked more than any other question–is “When will I ever need to know this?” For some questions, the answer is really easy. For others, I need to take a step back and think.
I like to answer my students honestly when they ask this question. It’s not always appropriate to stop class and give an answer at that moment, but I always try to find a time where I can speak with the student to let them know. When I need to step back and think about it myself is most likely when that student needs an answer the most.
And it’s when I am most likely to try and improve myself as a teacher.
Because when a question like this is asked, and I don’t have an answer, is it worth my time to teach it? Is it worth my students’ time to learn it?
Sometimes, the answer is yes. If Common Core or my district demands that something be taught, I will teach it. But sometimes, that’s not the case. Sometimes we teach things because we think we should. We haven’t taken a step back and put the thought into it.
For all of the criticism that newer standards have received, this is one area where they thrive. Things that are done within the classroom should hold up to the scrutiny of research. If I am going to do something or teach something, it should be backed up by evidence that it works.
Innovations within the classroom must have evidence for success. Otherwise, students are just guinea pigs. However, research in many areas indicates that a sense of purpose improves performance. In my classroom, I have a lot of anecdotal evidence to back this up. When students understand that school is not just about tests and homework, that it’s a training ground for life, they begin to feel free to explore material, take risks with their answers, and ask more questions. School still has all of the boring required stuff, but there’s more meaning to the students. In the end, they learn far more when they’re actually invested in the material. That holds true of technology class, English, Algebra, or any other subject I’ve taught.
As a teacher, I have no idea what the future is going to bring. I’m not sure what will change with technology, or with society in general. I have an obligation to prepare my students so that whatever situation they face, they will have a chance of success. There are state and district standards that must be upheld, of course, but even within these, there is a lot of freedom to ensure that the material is going to be helpful and relevant for students. It takes extra time to prepare lessons in this manner, but ultimately, it is far better for the student to be confident and able.
On a final note, I am interested in what the research says on this. Google Scholar only reveals a handful of case studies indicating that confidence toward the future helps improve standardized test results. I would agree with this wholeheartedly based on my anecdotal evidence. Far more research is needed in this direction, though.