A Message to Students

On the first and last days of school, there is a script running in my head that I’ve constructed from sixteen years as a student, two student teaching experiences, and five years as a teacher.

I like to watch their faces. There’s a lot of nervousness at the beginning of the year, some eye rolling, a few shy smiles. By the end of the year, the faces are warm and happy, comfortable, excited. The relationship has changed. The message, though the same, has more meaning because it comes from a place of mutuality. Together, we have learned, shared, and experienced.

At the beginning and end of each year, I tell my students that I believe everyone has the power to make a positive impact on the world. Impacts can range from personal to local to global as students grow older and begin to think bigger. For example, students can be more caring towards one another, volunteer in their communities, donate money, set up charities.

The reason I became a teacher, I tell them, is because I believe in their ability to act to improve of the world around them.

This is why, I tell them, they do so much research, work in groups, read, write, communicate, think, reflect, make decisions. This is why I challenge them. This is why I expect them to grow and to learn every single day.

Finally, I tell my students that the only way any of this is possible is if they believe that we are partners in their education. I am not a person who makes promises, but every year on the first day of school I promise my students that I will do as much as I can to help them be successful.

From conversations throughout the year, I know that I have made good on that promise.

At the end of the school year, I remind my students that I am here for them, even though I may not be their teacher any more. When I’ve moved on, I give students my personal email address because I don’t believe that location changes acts of caring. I tell them that they can always ask any questions, let me know what’s new in their lives, or just say hello. Sometimes they do.

At the end of the year, my hope is that my students have internalized the message that I care about them and believe in them and trust that they can make an impact on the world. That’s the goal, above everything else.

Thinking about this today, our last day of classes, has led me to reflect on action. It’s one thing to tell students that I believe they can make an impact; it’s quite another to provide them with concrete opportunities to do that.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s measure impact in terms of “lives saved”. What would an education system look like if we required students to save one life each year? What sorts of actions would they undertake? What would they learn about charitable donation, effective altruism, fundraising, extent of impact based on different actions, earning to give, social enterprises, NGOs?

A friend and I have recently been toying with how to implement real life saving into curriculum. If you have suggestions or thoughts, please post in the comments section below. I’m really excited about it so stay tuned!

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