As a teacher, I try to connect with the parents of my students and find out what's important to them. I frequently ask: What do you want your child to learn? What student skills do you want them to have? Parents have given me tremendous feedback over the years. Here are the five skills, which aren't entirely related to academics, that they hope their children learn at school.
Teachers need to help students become independent. This doesn't happen overnight, so both parents and teachers must gradually increase a student's responsibilities. By high school graduation, students should be independent enough to handle what life throws at them. Teachers can support this by allowing students to make choices in the classroom—whether they're choosing their own research topic or books to read. You should also provide students with opportunities to choose from a variety of class offerings, internships, and dual-enrollment classes. Calling upon students to self-assess progress and create improvement plans is also valuable.
Finally, holding students accountable will prepare them for the real world. When I have a student who's struggling, for example, I'll sit down with them and ask, "What is getting in the way of your success?" and "What are you going to do to fix this?" Holding the student accountable for both the problem and the action needed to gain a positive result helps them become more independent.
Parents have repeatedly told me they want their children to be able to think critically and problem-solve. Teaching students to understand that there are many ways to solve a problem is key. One of the best ways to help students problem-solve is to ensure the curriculum is linked to real-world situations. Students in science classes solve environmental problems and physics-related issues. English language arts students learn the art of persuasion and argument.
Project-based learning is another way to help students tackle problems that exist in the real world. Give students an assignment that requires them to develop a solution to a problem that can be approached many different ways; this better prepares them for the future.
Students need to understand that finding mentors and networking is a key component for success. I have a student in my advanced-placement literature class right now, Vincenzo, who wants to study business. He reached out to a graduate from our school who works as a venture capitalist. This particular business leader usually only accepts college students as interns, but he was so impressed with Vincenzo's initiative that he offered him an internship. Vin is now learning the valuable skills of the profession he hopes to make his career. Providing students with internship opportunities, encouraging them to connect with alumni, and teaching them how to prepare a one-minute "elevator pitch" are all valuable skills that can spur a student on to success.
A few years ago, I had a wonderful student who was accepted to an Ivy League school. While the student was intelligent and capable, he and his family both told me he never learned how to self-advocate. When he didn't understand an assignment, he was afraid to reach out to his professors. He never once attended his professors' office hours because he thought that would prove he was incapable. He didn't realize his classmates often met with their professors to ask questions and review work. The student ended up on probation, but he was fortunate enough to learn from his mistake, return to school, and graduate from college on time.
Middle school and high school teachers should teach students the term self-advocacy and explain that it means speaking up for yourself and making smart decisions. Teachers and guidance counselors should encourage their students to meet with them when they're struggling. Advisers help a great deal because students have a trusted adult they can turn to for support. Teaching students how to plan for a meeting with a teacher is also important; students should write down their concerns and take notes so they can make an action plan for success.
5. Presentation Skills
Parents want their children to be able to present with confidence. They should be able to "hold a room" and not merely read off a PowerPoint presentation. They need to be able to defend their work. Students who participate in the science fair, history fair, or other school events gain experience with this skill, but teachers need to incorporate more opportunities for presentations into the classroom.
Teachers can task students with small presentations first, and as a course goes on, they can challenge students to build on their presentation skills. Most importantly, teachers need to show students what an exemplary presentation looks like. This can be done by having older student-mentors present for the class or by showing videos of strong presentations.
As a teacher, listening to parents articulate the student skills they hope their children obtain has proven to be very valuable. Together, we can prepare students to tackle whatever issue comes their way, ensuring that they're truly ready for college and the working world.