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TNTP Re-imagine Teaching

Academics and Advocates

Teachers on the Power of Bringing Rigor and Relevance Together

November 7, 2017

The Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice recognizes 100 outstanding public school teachers each award year, celebrating four winners who are making a profound difference for their students and schools by leading challenging and engaging classrooms. Winners participate in a thought-provoking summer residency with their peers, reflecting and writing about the issues facing their students and their profession—and how they’re tackling those challenges in their classrooms. Each winner also receives a $25,000 award.

This year the Fishman Prize residency focused on a question that educators at all levels are discussing: How can more school experiences be academically rigorous and relevant to students’ lives and aspirations? For many, this feels like a choice teachers have to make. Do we focus on building essential academic skills or on creating classroom experiences that feel relevant to today’s students’ lives? It’s a question that digs at the root of the school experience. Is the purpose of public education to develop academic skills and knowledge, or to reach beyond academic skills to teach social, emotional, and civic lessons? 

In the essays that follow, four incredible teachers show that the choice between rigor and relevance is a false dilemma. It is not only possible to help students learn essential academic content and apply it to their own lives, it is essential to a meaningful school experience. As you’ll see, there are multiple ways to do so that are authentic for both students and teachers in classrooms across the country. 

At a time when student experiences inside and outside of the classroom are increasingly complex, these teachers are united in their belief that no two students are the same, but that all students have the right to demand a challenging and inspiring day at school each and every day.

Read the Essays