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TNTP’s Favorite Thinkers 2016: Student Edition
Every year around this time, we ask some leading voices in education—teachers, school and district leaders, policy makers and others—to weigh in on what they see as the most significant education trends of the year, and to predict what lies ahead.
We’ve loved those posts, but this year feels different. Nationally, we’re at a critical inflection point, with many unknowns, as we look ahead to a changing administration and a revamped federal education law that returns more agency to the states. And here at TNTP, we’re approaching our work in new and changing ways, too. This year, we’ve had the great privilege of getting to know more students than ever before, with publications like Room to Run, in this year’s Fishman Prize classrooms, and through blog posts that feature student perspectives.
These kids and their voices are profoundly important. As we think more and more about the kinds of school experiences we believe all students deserve, it feels essential to seek out student perspectives—and listen to them—as we consider where to go next. If we thought about student goals and student experiences as the starting point for how we organize schools, classrooms and lessons, we’d have a better, more equitable system.
So this year, we took our annual Favorite Thinkers Review back to the classroom, to revisit some of the students we met this year and find out what they think is working in their schools—and what they’d like to see change.
I hope you enjoy hearing from these young people as much as I have. We wish you a warm and peaceful end to the year, and we’ll see you in 2017!
Ashlyn Langford, High School Junior, Ruskin, Florida
The whole point of education is getting you ready for life. It's about learning how to learn. But right now, a lot of high school isn’t preparing us for what’s next. I take core classes at my high school and then I go to the community college and take classes there. I honestly feel like if I weren't in that program, I'd be completely lost in terms of college. High school is nothing like college.
That's one of the things I think we really need to improve upon. We need to be more focused on preparing students for college. I know so many students who would love to go to college but have no idea where to start. They don't know all the options, so they just end up going into debt and wasting their time and then giving up. It could be improved so easily if we were given more access to college and guidance counselors. College isn't for everyone, but there are so many other options out there. If I hadn't done my own research, I would have no idea about these other options.
My classes at the community college are really challenging, but they’re not over my head—they’re just pushing me. We're being taught by professors, and they have expectations of us as though we're college students. The fact that they have those expectations makes us feel like we can get there.
That's different than a lot of teachers in high school. I’ve had a teacher who had such low expectations that it was actually harder for me to do the work than it would have been if they had higher expectations. I think students will only go as far as the teacher pushes them. If their expectations are really low, at most you're going to meet them. But if a teacher's expectations are really high, we'll always work harder to get there. It feels like I can do anything, because that's what the teacher expects of us: not just you can do this, but you’re going to do this. It makes me feel really powerful.
It’s also really important to pay attention to what students are saying. I’d love it if teachers had students fill out a form every week asking what they could do better to help students meet our goals. We know what works best for us in learning. But if a teacher's not getting that, we don't always want to say something. It's kind of rude. If there were a way for teachers and students to have that kind of regular communication, teachers and students would both improve all the time. It would be a chain reaction.
Chance Wright, Fifth Grader, San Antonio, Texas
Hi everyone! Your favorite Kn.E.R.D. is back, but now I’m in fifth grade and at a new school this year. When I first got to Texas things started out rough. I had two teachers each day and I wasn’t being pushed. But my new school is awesome, it’s like high school—even though I'm in fifth grade, and they push me. I take Latin, English, math, geography, science, martial arts, and music. I'm in the drum line for band. And I play basketball on the school team.
There a lot of big differences, but organization and studying are most important. I still struggle with keeping up with things and I definitely need to be organized. I went from having two to six teachers every day. Also, classes are shorter than what I was used to. We have to take a lot of notes in all our classes, but we have a lot of discussions, too. Sometimes in Latin we have awesome discussions and we don't even get to finish our notes. It’s weird because a lot of discussions are about just one word that actually makes up a bunch of other words we use in America. It’s cool. Then in one class, we write more than what I would write in a whole week in my other school.
As soon as I get to school, I have to write in my “C.J.” which is our communication journal. It’s pretty much like an agenda. We get started with our notes and what we have to do for the day. I look over my notes in there when I have a test. There's some kids who don't. I don’t know how though, because you cannot pass in school if you don't study. I didn’t really have to study before. My old school taught us how to do the questions: Just read the passage and find the answer.
Now, I have lots of work. Sometimes, I wake up at four o’clock in the morning just to finish homework and study. On Saturday, I'm catching up on work I'm not done with. My mom takes me to the library and I re-organize and make sure I have all my work done. Sometimes, I just get really frustrated, but I know I can deal with it. I have to learn how to deal with it because my parents won't let me quit. This is a good school and I'm definitely going to say the work is challenging, but it's not hard. As long as I have the right study materials and habits, things go great.
My teachers are great. One of them, Mr. Frazier, he moved here from Scotland three years ago to come teach geography. He was a geologist—yeah, a real geologist. One time when he was teaching, he turned around and closed his eyes and said everything that was on the screen. He memorized the whole thing. That's how I can tell he's good. Also, during the summer he travels and does research. He climbs mountains. Next summer he’s climbing some mountain in Australia. I also like Ms. Fisher and Mr. Russell.
The kids at school are also really diverse. There are kids from South Korea, India, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Russia. They help make the school do better, I think. Because if the kids were not getting the best education, then, there's no point in coming here—especially if they traveled thousands of miles, or maybe millions of miles, just to come to school.
Really, the only thing I would like to change is to make school longer. I'd like to have longer periods in class because sometimes we don't get to finish things. We have 50 minutes, I'd rather have an hour of class-time. It's just ten minutes more and then school would end at 4:00 P.M, instead of at 3:15 P.M. That's not that big of a difference, especially for a future CEO like me.
Jacques Gadson, High School Senior, College Park, Georgia
I feel like school doesn't always offer things that prepare you for life or for what you plan on doing in your post-secondary education. I can't remember the last time I've been in school and learned how to do something I was able to apply to a real life situation. You know what I mean? I’d like to be learning about engineering, how to fix things, how to handle real life situations, or how to manage finances. Those types of things would really prepare young students for life.
I know you can’t really declare majors in high school, but I think school could've been better if I had a chance to choose what I would have preferred to learn. Doing that would've given me time to develop my interests. I already had an idea going into school that I wanted to have a career in architecture or engineering. If someone would have asked me what I wanted to be when I was a freshman, I would have had time to develop my skills in that area and improve my chances at having a career. I know everyone doesn’t know what they want to do right away, but if school would have asked us, it would have given students time to really think about it. I feel like we haven't had that time and now, as seniors, we’re trying to prepare ourselves for the real world and college and figure all these things out. It's kind of like we’re at a disadvantage.
In my experience, a lot of teachers don't care. I think things would have been better if I’d had more instructors that actually interact with the students instead of trying to just complete their job. It's so hard to learn in a classroom where you spend an hour and thirty minutes staring at a power-point. Basically, if there were more teachers like Mr. Patterson, everything would be a million times better. He actually cares. You can feel the enthusiasm he brings to lessons. His level of enthusiasm and the way he interacts with us makes it easier to learn and makes the classroom environment more fun. I never feel like I'm forced to do something.
Going into college, I’m looking forward to specialization. I'm looking forward to taking courses that teach the things that I want to know, instead of the things people feel I should know. I'm looking forward to taking certain classes that teach me how to do things I've always wanted to do, rather than putting me in a general classroom, with other people who aren't interested in the same things. I'm looking forward to being around people I can interact with that have the same beliefs and career goals as I do. I'm looking forward to college a lot.
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TNTP’s Favorite Thinkers Review 2013
We asked, they answered: Smart takes on what mattered most.December 18, 2014
TNTP’s Favorite Thinkers Review 2014
Leading voices in education reflect on the past year.December 18, 2015
TNTP’s Favorite Thinkers Review 2015
Leaders in education reflect on 2015 and forecast 2016.