I am a 19 year old college student in Michigan. Those of you who reside in Michigan know that I had to push through a really crappy educational system to get here and that the standards for public education drop every year. We all gripe and moan about the low standards, but not much is being done.
I’ve gone through many different types of educational institutions so far. When I was in elementary school, I lived in the city and I went to a private Catholic school. My parents paid extra because they wanted me to have a good education. That school was tough. Recess was a solace from the constant work. Going home just meant that I had a pile of homework to do that would take me most of the night to complete only to continue again in the morning. Even though it was tough, I actually learned something while I was there. It wasn’t wasted effort. The teachers believed in our potential and pushed us to do better. When we didn’t finish our homework, they told us how disappointed they were in us and I always felt ashamed that I chose to go out and play rather than do it. The only downside to the school was the people: they were mostly snobby, rich kids who had the best of everything: toys, games, clothes. In comparison, my parents had to work hard to get me into the school and, while we got by, we certainly weren’t rolling in the dough. I was always alright with that, too, until someone bragged about the new doll their mom and dad had bought them.
In sixth grade, my parents decided to move into the thumb (Yes, I do refer to where I live by making my hand into a mitten. It’s a normal thing to do here.) which, if you don’t know anything about Michigan, is in the middle of nowhere. It is pure farming country. Twenty minutes to the nearest Wal-Mart and an hour to any major shopping center. When we moved there, my brother and I were enrolled in public school for the first time. It was such a big change.
Because of how hard I was pushed in my previous school, I was ahead of my classmates. I knew most of what they were learning and found the homework… simple. The teachers didn’t push us very hard and, if I didn’t do any of my homework I just got a bad grade. No disappointed looks, no speeches in front of the entire class, nothing. The best part, though, was the people. Everyone was friendly. They didn’t care about how much money you had, who your parents were, nothing. On my first day, a girl I didn’t know asked me if I wanted to play with her. When someone new came to my old school, it took them a while to make any friends because they were shunned at first. It was a novel experience.
As I moved into High School, this didn’t change. The people continued to be friendly. I don’t know if this is because we were in a public school or if it was just because everyone in the country is like that, but it took steps towards building up my self-confidence. The problem, though, was the education standards. They had shrunk to near nonexistence.
The teachers that actually cared about how students did, and made sure that we learned something, were minimal. I had a teacher whose main teaching methods were crossword puzzles and coloring in maps. Anyone with half a brain could pass that class, especially since, if you asked, he would tell you answers to the homework. Most of my teachers were of similar caliber. The ones who were different, who actually wished to challenge students, were all older, ranging from mid-forties to retirement age. But, they were my favorite. They expected me to do well, to excel, and when I failed at something they were more than happy to help me figure out what I had done wrong. If the rest of the teachers at the school were similar, it would increase the potential of students by monumental degrees. We can complain about the lack of funding to the public school system all we want, but that is not our only concern. We need a way to test the merit of teachers. We need more teachers who actually care about how their students are faring and don’t give up on the problem children. I saw several people in my graduating class who were just given a passing grade and then pushed along to the next teacher, only to have those teachers complain about how little most of my class knew and how we should be so much farther ahead. Every teacher complained about that, but they all went through the same motions nevertheless.
When the time for the ACT came, we were told to be happy to get a 21. Now, out of a ranking of 36, 21 really isn’t that great and most colleges want at least a 25 to get admitted. But our teachers, and our counselor, told us not to expect too much. They gave us classes on how to take the test, but it seemed… half-hearted. Some of the teachers weren’t really sure what to tell us and the others were pushed into teaching something that wasn’t even their field of expertise. That was wrong. We should have been told to fight for a good score and the teachers should have put more effort into showing us what to do.
I’m now in college and I can’t help but feel that this is how education is supposed to be. I go to a private college, so it is smaller and a little different than other colleges, but the size makes it so much better. Because we are so small, we get more one on one time with our professors. Ever professor know the name of every student in their class and, if they were to pass on the sidewalk, would happily strike up a conversation with us, and visa versa. I am always encouraged to come in and chat. It doesn’t even have to be about the class but, if it is, they are more than happy to help me learn. I once had an hour long conversation with one of my english professors about story tales and how vampires are viewed in culture, neither of which was being covered in my class, and it is once of my favorite conversations.
I know that, if I was every having trouble, my professors would support me. They will, and are, putting their all into helping me succeed. They love to teach, they love the pursuit of knowledge, and they love to help their students. This is how all education should be. I shouldn’t have to go to college to finally get this level of aptitude and excitement from an educator. Even if you do teach elementary, middle, or high school, that is no excuse for not putting your all into your students. How you teach determines their future. Don’t let your students be like my graduating class, where anyone who managed a B- average was considered a genius and people who took AP classes was putting in too much effort. Don’t let your students settle for a C because that’s all they need to pass. That’s what happened in my school, and that was unacceptable. If you expect everything from your students, if you show use that you believe in their potential, I promise you that we will respond. It make take a little while for some to believe it, because we’ve gone so long without our educators actually caring, but once we do there will be no stopping us.