What Do Students Think Should Change About School?

This is a call out to students.  Whether you’re in primary, middle or high school, whether you’re a college undergrad or a postdoctoral fellow, I’d like to hear your opinion.  What do you think should change about school?

My friend Gen X has asked me to put this question out there.  She’s interested in students’ frustrations about all aspects of our society – school, workplace, social life, etc. – but to begin, I’m especially interested in what’s bugging you about school.  How could school be better?

You can leave your thoughts in the comments below.  If you’re shy, you can send them to me by email through the form on my contact page.  And if you’d like to really get your hands into it, write and email me a mini- (or maxi-!) essay of 200 words or more. I will feature the best essays as a future guest posts here on Classroom as Microcosm!

Parents, teachers and other non-students, please forward this question to the thoughtful and articulate students you know: if you were Supreme High Overlord or Overlady of the World, what would you change about school?

Image by Ivan Prole

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88 responses

  1. It seems safe to say that what we desire of school is a reflection of why we choose to be students.

    I’m just now finishing my second year in college, and my purpose in being a student is to be exposed to as many different ideas, to as many different connections between ideas, and to as many people of expertise as I can.

    To that end, my only dissatisfaction with school is the extent to which my classes emphasize repetition and reproduction over comprehension. Too much information is covered in insufficient depth to render it meaningful—or, indeed, memorable; we’ve all heard the trick for remembering the names of people we meet by associating them with things already familiar to us.

    The information presented in the classroom is no different; the connections and parallels between ideas are as important as the ideas themselves, but too often my teachers rush from idea to idea, fact to fact as if that were the best way they could employ the expertise they’ve spent years or decades to develop. It’s not.

    My classes tend to sacrifice exploring connections so as to leave time to cover more ideas.

    Shifting the emphasis onto the connections between the ideas we cover is the change I would make.

  2. I heard that they are trying to do away with red pens in grade schools because the color red causes students anxiety. What do you think about that? Personally, I think that if teachers used green then green would just become the color of their anxiety.

    I think a major problem with education is that too much attention is payed to problems that don’t need fixing and too little attention is payed to real improvements that could be made.

    • SFB: I use green ink. I think it’s pretty, and the students do too, but I do often hear them say things like, “Uh-oh. I see a lot of green.”

      Can you give me an example of a “real” improvement that could be made, in contrast to the problem of correction ink?

  3. I am not currently a student, but I was until a short while ago so I’ll still comment.

    My biggest disappointment with college was that there was never any attempt to tie the classes together into a whole, unified education. I attended a school where the core was very small, so it was almost all electives outside of my major. I took classes on British lit, anthropology, economics, and other esoteric and largely unrelated things. While many of the individual classes were well-taught and some of the professors were brilliant, I learned very little about how to approach the big issues in life. Indeed, some of the things that seem to me like they should be absolutely central to how I live my life were never mentioned at all.

    • AlexBPop: I am currently taking a course on interdisciplinarity, and we are discussing this very subject. How do we link the (sometimes artificially divided) disciplines into real material that deals with real issues? It’s not easy, but there are programs that try to do it, and I’m interested to learn more.

  4. I’d prefer the standard practice would be to administer a how-do-you-learn-best test to every fifth grader so that as students go further, they are taught according to whether they are primarily visual learners, auditory learners, reading/writing-preference learners, or kinesthetic learners.

    To this day, I can’t stand lectures because I can’t focus on people speaking. I have hearing disabilities but as I’ve gotten older, it has become that human speech becomes indistinguishable as opposed to just being unheard.

    • KdDeShane: This is an interesting idea! There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether the theory of “learning styles” is really valid, but your case sounds like one in which a change of teaching methods could really have made a difference.

      • I think good teaching approaches all modailities; I think it’s a mistake to claim to be a visual learner or a kinesthetic one. I certainly know how I best learn, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t well, learn how to learn. In whichever way the teacher instructs me, I am responsible for that information. If she lectures and I take notes, but I learn better visually, then it’s my responsibility to make a representation that work for me. It’s not her responsibility to make it work for me. In an American high school, I’d be one of her 180 students, and she is only one person.

        • OKP: one of things I love about working with learning disabled students at the college level is that they usually know so much about how they learn. They can ask you for things, and if you can’t do them, they can figure out how to provide those things for themselves. If only all students were so aware of their own cognition!

  5. My biggest problem with school is learning something one way with one teacher, and once you’ve finally got it, you get a new teacher with a different way. This happens all the time, especially in Math and languages. It is really hard, frustrating and confusing to always have to re-learn something you though you knew.

    • I agree with Sara! It often takes several weeks to get accustomed to how a teacher teaches a class and become familiar with what s/he expects in exercises. This causes my grades to be lower in the beginning and I have to work harder once I understand what is expected of me and have figured out how to learn the most from that teacher’s style.

    • Sara: this is an interesting observation. I’ve always been a fan of knowing different methods to achieve a goal. Maybe if teachers make clearer connections between the different methods, that would make it all make more sense?

    • Learning how to do a concept more than one way is beneficial and shows that the teachers are taking you to a deeper and fuller understanding of the topic or concept. No harm in learning more, is there? The second teacher does not reach in my head and erase the first learning, her or she just expands on what I now know.

  6. Ok this has been bothering me for some time now. I have had 3 high school English teachers so far. Only one of the teachers actually gives comments on ways to improve my writing next time. I got really high marks for English that year. I did not so well with the other 2 teachers. This year my friend is complaining to me about her English teacher, which is my English teacher for next semester. But the only thing I cared about is if that teacher writes comments after the mark, which the teacher doesn’t. And no one gets over a 70 in that class. Hmm…I wonder why…perhaps no one knows how to make their marks better because the teacher didn’t write anything! I think we can start by teachers writing a little next steps comment or something of the sort after the mark.

  7. Hello! I stumbled upon this blog while I was going through the posts on the Freshly Pressed. Really good stuff!

    OK, so, I’m in high school, it’s my final year this year. I’m 17 and yes, in Malaysia, we only get 6 years of primary education and 5 years of secondary education. I’ll be having my major examinations next month and hallelujah, I’m not prepared. Anyway, that’s beside the point. I believe school is a lot of fun and it really is necessary. But sometimes, it can get pretty “stifling” and challenging.

    I’m happy to say that after I leave high school, I’m sure to have more good memories than bad ones. And I know that I’ll preach on the importance of school – it really is more than just education in terms of the getting-an-A-for-every-damn-exam. It’s definitely more than that. We learn about other people, we learn how to create and maintain friendships, we learn about ourselves, we learn about life. This is arguable but I believe it is during our school life when we truly discover ourselves – what we want to do in life and what direction we’ll be heading.

    This may sound pretty ironic and contradictory to some of the statements I made before this but I can’t wait to be over with high school. After my form 3 (class 9), I chose to be in the science stream. So yes, this year and last year have been particularly difficult because it is required of me to study subjects that I have the slightest of interest of. I’m more of an ‘Arts’ person and I’m planning to pursue a degree in mass communication or journalism.

    This brings me to my next point. School gets worse with the pressure from our parents, teachers and friends and yes, the disappointment of not living up to what has been expected of us is in the very least, excruciating. When that happens, school automatically becomes repulsive.

    I’ve had many doubts this year and last year. And many a time, I felt like just dropping everything and just freaking fail everything because I felt like such a failure. But I didn’t. School’s more than that, I’m very certain of that. I participated in many activities; I played football and basketball for the school, I debated for the school and I was chosen to be a contributor to a newspaper company in my country.

    School albeit its not-so-attractive features was okay. I focused more on the good stuff – my amazing friends, my extremely helpful and warm teachers and I enjoyed the high school life.

    My apologies for diverting from the question and going off with this super long comment. I don’t think I made myself very clear with this comment but I just really wanted everyone to know that school is fun. It can get pretty daunting and crappy at times but if we choose to enjoy the good stuff and not get so worked up on getting an A for every subject, we’ll be okay. How do I know? I’m okay. :)

  8. I too came across this blog through WordPress’s Freshly Pressed. I’m currently a Freshman at a local Junior College. All my classes are online classes as I work during the day full time as a Carpenter for the local school district. Yes, I’m a bit older than most students as I graduated from High School 28 years ago. I did a semester of college right after High School, but didn’t do well as I was more focused on partying than studying. Times have changed and I’ve matured just a bit.

    One thing that I can’t get over about college today is all the remedial and prep classes that are not only offered but usually pretty full. 28 years ago, there were few if any remedial courses offered that I remembered. I’ve never had to take a remedial course, so I can’t comment on whether they are a help to students or not.

    If I could change just one thing about college, it would be to get rid of Pell Grants. That may seem a bit outlandish, but let me explain. By making college affordable to many people that years ago would not have been able to go to college, it basically makes it an extension to High School. There are quite a few people that if they had to work to pay for their college would not go. These are the same students that do poorly in college and really have no business being in college. Colleges are obligated to try to teach students that are not prepared and are also under pressure to show decent graduation rates. To achieve this, they have to hire more faculty member to teach remedial courses and also to lower the bar of expectation. There is a real danger of grade inflation going on throughout the nation. Today an “A” doesn’t mean near as much as it did a few decades back.

    As I do the work for my classes, I have an incentive to do well which has only come from years of working hard and learning from life’s experiences. Unfortunately, even though I do well in my classes, due to grade inflation, it is not seen as much of a big deal as it used to be.

    In my day job at the school district, I get brief glimpses of students from K-12 in classes. I also get to interact and develop friendships with various teachers. For the most part, most are motivated to teach well, but of course there are the bad apples in the system that have forgotten why they are there. The lack of parental involvement is a clear indicator of a student’s future failure in the academic world. Consequentially when these students go on to college because the government is subsidizing their education, they have to go to remedial classes which take up resources from the college that in my opinion could be put to better use for the students that are prepared for college.

    Thanks for having this post and this discussion.

    • Aewl:
      Thank you so much for your thoughts on this. I’m not familiar with “Pell Grants,” but I think I get the idea. I can certainly relate to your assertion that college is not for everyone, and that people who have to work hard to get there are more likely to develop the skills they need to do well.

  9. Wow, you really are a teacher; asking people to write in essays. Haven’t you got enough to grade? :)

    I think Lunches have always been a problematic time of the school day, for as long as I can recall. Whether it’s the disgusting food, the long lines, or the fact that I can’t get anywhere else on campus that I need to be during that time, it’s something that I’ve always felt should be dealt with. Off campus lunch for seniors is an awesome distraction to the problem, but not a solution.
    That’s how I feel.
    And your post has inspired one in me because just as second ago I was going off on a tangent. And I’m not subliminally promoting it right here: http://averitheantag0nist.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/should-school-change/

    • Averi:
      I love to cook, and I have sometimes been tempted to ask my college if I can stop teaching English and instead set up a vegetarian cafe in the student mall. It would be a place to give cooking courses – maybe as part of the physical education program? – and the students would make all the cafe’s food. It would be one place students could go for delicious and healthy lunches.

  10. I am a graduate student studying for my MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. The more I read and the more I learn about schools, and the more I reflect on my own personal experience with schools as both a student and a teacher, the clearer it is to me that “writing” as a subject has become the exclusive domain of the English classroom. Writing across the curriculum is important for students to learn and needs to be incorporated into schools as early as elementary school. After all, literacy is important outside of the English classroom as well. Kids need to be able to come to college knowing how to write for any class they take, and then for their life. The number of students that cannot place into the required freshman college English course is alarming.

    • AlexisBlogs:
      I agree. Many schools and colleges are trying to encourage literacy across the curriculum, but they meet with resistance, especially from teachers who feel unqualified to evaluate students’ writing skills, and students who are outraged at the thought that they need to write properly in chemistry class. It’s hard to get people to stop compartmentalizing!

  11. I graduated from university last month but I still have a few thoughts:

    I think it would be very helpful if the whole system was no longer so focused on grades, but more on comprehension and application so that we’ll be able to make better use of what we learn in life and work later on.

    Many times I’ve rushed through exercises just to get the grade. I didn’t put the time to truly understand the exercise in because I had so many other exercises to do for other classes, and work, etc. If grades were less important and more emphasis was put on understanding the material and knowing how to use it properly, I think that students would get much more out of their education.

    This means schools would need to come up with a new means of evaluating our progress though…

    • Anne-Sophie:
      I have done a little bit of research into gradeless universities, and there are some interesting systems that rely entirely on large-scale projects, oral defenses of work, and overall achievement. I think Bennington College is one of these institutions, but there are a few others. I find the idea intriguing!

  12. Completing my graduation (comp sci majors) from Mumbai university, and now pursuing my post grad in the same field, most of the things i’d want to change regarding schooling are pretty much specific to the educational system in my country. I’ve never had much complaints about school, except for the courses which we were forced to take during our schooling, at any level.

    I’ve seen students fail and discredited for years who finally gave up on studies due to some of the things they’re put through in their courses. For instance, two students i know from my batch, who could do really beautiful in their computers and logic courses had compulsory grad level chem and maths which they couldn’t even comprehend. Is stuff like real maths and advanced chemistry seriously something you need to study for computers major?

    Also i wonder if stuff like advanced physics, chemistry and calculus, differential equations are really required at higher secondary (10 to 15 years) level where folks like my bro can get freaked out even on mentioning these subjects!

    And worse part is, the grading goes exclusively on written papers which for most of the time are passed by rote learning. I can’t even recall what real maths crap i studied during my grad, things which i’m never going to implement at least in the next few years in my career, and believe me, barely anyone in my pg batch can remember.

    I guess schools must follow a model where students’ courses are extremely flexible and guided extensively on the basis of their aptitude.

    And this just goes to the schooling. The entire education industry here today is absolutely industry oriented where a ‘job’ is given the utmost priority which explains the poor grading policy. But that’s a different part altogether.

    I do have good and indeed wonderful memories of my schooling, but I also know folks who’ve had just too many bad ones.

    • Akshay: This gives me some interesting insight into a school system I’m not familiar with – thank you. It certainly bears resemblance to some of our systems; the question of what should be included in the “core” of a program is always a contentious one.

  13. That’s great! I hope they have good results and that other schools/universities will consider switching to a similar system. I honestly think it would help students get much more out of their studies (which is the point after all, isn’t it?)

  14. Being in the tenth grade, I can honestly say that a lot of pressure has built up inside of me in the past two years. Why? Because I’ve been expected to do so much at once. I understand the concept of teachers, principals, and other school faculty members wanting us to do our best but sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. For example, English is my favorite subject and has always been my strongest subject but this year my teacher wants me to help tutor others that may need help AND continue to maintain the average that I have. This isn’t only my English teacher but its all of them. So my suggestion is to make sure the student is comfortable with the pace of each class and make sure too much isn’t expected at once.

    • LLL: I think teachers sometimes forget how much students have to do. We see you only in our courses, and so we forget that you may have five, six or seven other courses as well as all the other things you have to do in life! Your comment is a good reminder.

  15. I’m a middle schooler at an all-girls school, and I was new this year. This group of girls has been together since preschool, and already formed groups, best friends, and other such things. If you’ve ever been to an all-girls school, you’d understand that girls are simply vicious in middle school. They’re just as quick to stab you in the back as they are to hug your front. I think that one of the biggest problems in school is the complete and utter failure to have kids get along with each other. If there’s loners and stuff in the class, that’s just because the other kids excluded them and never tried to get along with them, or vice versa. If I were the ruler of the world, I’d make schools spend the first week or so on team building activities and fun games, ASSIGNING groups instead of letting them pick, do tons of group projects, sit them in tables of four and switch people around, make them have input, bring out leaders in those timid people, assign projects where they have to present to their groups, build community acceptance, and most of all, encourage talking and discussion. Teachers who stifle conversations and make children sit in silence, doing desk work by themselves, are essentially discouraging the community that is the class. Teachers who let people work in groups to solve problems, or assign group projects, or do fun activities, get much more out of their classes because in the end, the children who have friends and are happy at school are the ones who can focus. A kid can’t think about negative fractions or algebra or predicate adjectives if they’re too worried about the fact that one of their classmates was rude to them earlier, or she got a mean text message, or so-and-so is trying to steal her boyfriend. Life and school is just so much easier when you know you’re accepted.

    • LUU: You have articulated this so well. I often struggled to feel a part of things when I was in junior high school, and that may be why I’m a big fan of assigning groups in the classroom rather than letting students pick their own. It benefits the students who are shy, but it also helps students who are stuck to their friends and really need to detach from them to work more productively. Thank you so much for this thoughtful comment!

  16. I see there’s a respondent from Mumbai so I somewhat feel compelled to represent the Pakistani point of view. Also, I really dig your blog. It’s the most productive reading I get done all day. I’m fresh out of college, and filled with resentment, so my critique is relatively centered. The single most grievance I’ve had with educators, at school and in university, has been this almost emotional disconnect with which they operate. They’re interactive, and encourage participation but, I’ve only had a handful of teachers who’ve actually taught me, taught me. Helped me develop a perspective and all. Theory is important but it only goes so far. Instructors need to become more unvarnished? The subject that’s stuck with me the most has got nothing to do with my majors. We were blessed enough to have a retired judge, an officiator of judicial reform in Bangladesh, teach us for a semester. He succeeded in getting a class full of Pakistani 20somethings interested in a concept as abstract as Law. All because of his telling it like it is. When a guy tells your annoying, pseudo-religious, hijab clad classmate that Shariah would look a lot like Common Law, and then runs parallels with the Magna Carta to successfully rest his case; you got to wake up and listen. He also managed to charm us with Wodehouse. Teachers need a crash course in performing arts; they need to stop holding back and stray away from the syllabus more. Not only does that make them cooler it actually helps them do better at their jobs – i.e. truly educating a cynical youth. (The cynical, jaded youth might be a specie indigenous to the Pakistani homeland only. I’ve never interacted with any other so my understanding is rather limited.)

  17. As a junior in college who has had anything but a standard school experience (frequent moves, intermittent homeschooling, being moved up midway through 5th grade), I always got the feeling that younger kids weren’t pushed hard enough. For instance, in the aforementioned 5th grade, a unit on geography went through an absurdly long period of latitude and longitude discussion. I don’t know much about how children develop, but if you increase the amount of material covered, especially at an early age, you might prevent a good deal of children from getting bored, disengaging, and then suffering horrid ramifications a few years down the road.

    Obviously, not all the students are capable of this, but such is a further argument for individualized learning.

    • InvSandTM: Individualized learning is of course ideal. The fact that our system divides students into large classes according to age creates problems such as the one you describe. Thanks for leaving your thoughts!

  18. People are good at what they are passionate about. To an extent, this is true for students as well. I think learning and degrees should be more focused and more applicable to practical usage. Your studies should no doubt be well rounded (so you can obtain skills you may end up using like writing, reading or editing), but there should be a way for skills and talents to be drawn out through the learning process. For example, if you were to put a student who dislikes math in a statistics class, but loves dance, which class do you think the student will excel at? Most likely, the dance class. But wait- dance involves math, yes? Of course it does, but not only is it a different type of math, it’s math in disguise. One may realize he or she is counting while dancing ballet, and I believe some of the same parts of your brain are used for doing both math and for dancing, but it its because the person loves dance, that makes it easier and more enjoyable for them to do the practice of dance (which involves math).

    This can also be applied to learning types. For example, I bet there are more art Students who are visual learners than art students who are audible learners… Coincidence? I don’t believe so.

    A good Professor, while recognizing weaknesses, should try to build on the strengths of students, and use those to draw out the best in the student.

    Furthermore, test taking is not a proper demonstration of the ability to learn. I know plenty of students who are well read and well studied, but testing will cause them to freeze up and ‘forget’ everything they know. Most definitely, this is something all students can work to overcome, but the fact is, testing (not always), can often be a poor tool of measurement.

    The issue is, different people learn differently and classes cannot be tailored to each individual. So what’s the alternative?

    • Anne: What’s the alternative, indeed! Individual attention, but for teachers with a load of 100 to 120 students, this is not entirely possible. Some people think that homeschooling is one solution, but that’s not an option for everyone. It’s a conundrum! Thanks for leaving your thoughts.

  19. I love this! I love your blog and think this is a great question! I feel that teachers don’t really appreciate what students go through. I would love to see a teacher actually work to know who their teaching. How can you teach a body of students that you don’t know? Education is about teaching! And some students need different things be be able to learn.

    As lots of teachers know kids have different learning styles and I would love to see a teacher work to conform to a body of kids. As a high schooler I really value education and feel I might learn a little better knowing that I had a teacher looking at a group of students and saying, Hey, I am working to help each and everyone of you to learn and achieve greatness. We need more teachers in the education system that are there to help kids. Help them learn and achieve goals. Why do we learn, to do well in life, so help us to achieve greatness, that’s what I want. I teacher that for once doesn’t just teach about this or that but rather takes a lesson and turn it into a learning experience. I know so many people who go to school and ask themselves, why am I learning this? How am I going to use this?

    Get what I’m saying?

  20. I think our educational system is very flawed. I say this because I’m a libertarian, entrepreneur, and individualist. I’m an 18 year old freshmen at college attending only for pure amusement and the love for knowledge and writing. For those who seek succession in a career they need hands on experience, they need to be different and stand for what they believe in, they need to be noticed. Our educational system does not like individualism, they prefer us to be exactly alike. College basically teaches you how to take orders and become an employee, no thanks.

    Creativity is more important than knowledge and society doesn’t seem to get that. Everyone prefers to be told what to do because that’s what feels comfortable. Try being uncomfortable and make change, succeed, and thrive.

    -no dogmas here, just my opinion

  21. I’m currently in my senior year in college, and when I look back at my years of public schooling, the thing that bothers me the most was the lack of EXERCISE! The last time I was required to participate in a physical education class was when I was 14, and by the end of that semester, I was in amazing shape! I loved being active everyday, and it was really disappointing that over the next three years of high school, I barely even got to go outside for some fresh air. School monopolized 8 hours of my day, and then homework and extra-curriculars took over after that. How was I supposed to be healthy if the cafeteria was serving crap AND I was never allotted time to exercise? The education system where I’m from (Tennessee) isn’t teaching kids about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. It’s concerning!

    By the way, I just started following your blog. I want to be an English teacher after I graduate, so your posts are very interesting and inspiring!

    Sarah

    • LifeSouvenirs: I have to agree with you about this. I hated phys ed in school and stopped taking it as soon as I could. In the college where I teach, however, PE is required, and all sorts of great courses are offered, from yoga to walking to dance – things I really would have enjoyed, while team sports were always traumatic! There’s plenty of research that shows that physical activity increases our ability to concentrate and gives us more energy, and developing active habits when we’re young leads to an active lifestyle later. Thanks for your comment!

  22. Hi Siobhan,

    I am finishing (or, better, trying to finish) graduate school now in a Business major, and I got most of my education in Italy.

    I would say that the first thing I would change in education is the emphasis on memorizing rather than on learning by doing. I do believe that there are certain fundamental notions that people must learn or at least be exposed to in school, but looking back at all the hours I spent trying to memorize long lists of bullet points, dates, names and the like, it is quite sad for me to realize that I don’t remember but a small fraction of all this! And secondly, I have to admit I have seen a few times people that did not really grasp the sense of what they studied for some exams but had such a good memory that they passed with brilliant grades. Being a relatively smart person with a really bad memory, I feel a bit disappointed.

    Conversely, there are a lot of important soft skills that in my opinion should be cultivated more in the classroom – especially in pre-college education, because everyone should practice them, not only those who choose some college major. I will cite two. The first is teamwork, which for sure is required later in life and also is helpful in retaining information. The second is storytelling – how to make yourself be understood, remembered and supported. I think it is particularly important to be able to use many kinds of media to communicate, and there are rules and tips to learn that are not always obvious. Besides, the best teachers I had were also the best storytellers.

    One other thing that school should push more is awareness regarding the students’ own educational and career path. There are too many kids/teens that do not have a clue when it comes to choosing the next school, and this is not how it should be. On the one hand, junior high and high school students do not receive enough information on the job market, to make thought-upon decisions on what to do next. On the other hand, they often lack introspection – school should encourage students to discover what they can do best and how their personal characteristics can fit the competences that the outer world requires.

    I hope I haven’t written too much! I love to talk about education, and by the way, your blog is really interesting!

    Chiara

  23. What would I like to change about school? The one thing that I don’t like about school is that I can’t ask as many questions as I would like, or answer as many as I would like, or else I get called a smarty-pants and people begin to think I’m arrogant. (Which sometimes I can be.)

    I’m looking forward to college and am hoping there are more people in college who are like me and actually care about what they’re learning.

    I don’t like having to stifle my questions and curiosity. But I guess that is part of learning to grow up: restraint. Learning how to get along with people and not make them dislike you or think you’re a smarty-pants. But anyway. That’s all.

    • Jessie: I can so identify with this. I was and still am a smartypants and I still sometimes become aware, in my graduate classes, that I’m talking too much and asking too many questions and boring the people around me. It’s hard to unlearn this tendency when you’re curious and when you learn things in large part by saying them aloud. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

  24. The problem with school is the way they teach us, mostly. I saw mentioned above that teachers don’t explore the depths of the subject enough. This is for sure true. If the thing I’m supposed to be learning has no interest or meaning to me, then I’m just going to end up memorizing it for a test, and forgetting it for the rest of my life. High school is supposed to prepare me for real life, but instead it does the opposite. It teaches me that nothing is really profound anyways, that memorization is the key, and I learn things that are never applied to any real situation. So I’m not going to remember any of this.

    In higher levels of education and work, that outlook of just simply memorizing isn’t going to get me anywhere. My classes also cramp creativity – any twist you want to put on any assignment, to make it personalized, is not allowed. So something I may be interested in, if I was allowed to make it my own, I never am. I have an IEP and that piece of paper is useless. Teachers disregard it and everything it stands for. But it’s not even about that anymore – it’s about how we’re not actually learning.

    Especially in English class. Every assignment is so structured, yet writing fiction and poetry is supposed to be freeing. I love writing, in real life, yet that class drives me crazy. It’s supposed to be a profound art, yet they teach it like it’s math.

    Half the kids fail, and the other half pass thanks to great memory. Great education system, we’ve got here.

    • Claire: Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I often hear creative students complain that there is not enough room for them to express themselves in their courses. I am of two minds about this – most of the most accomplished artists I know say that structures and rules are some of the things that help stimulate and free their creativity, but at the same time, too many strictures can certainly be stifling. I’d love to hear what others have to say about this.

  25. Hi! I live in Romania and I’m in middle school, next year I’m going to high school and I’m pretty excitet :) but are some things that I’d like to change like….THE HOLE SYSTEM :))
    however I have a little question…. I’m planning to study abroud and I want to ask you what are the colleagues/ universities you recommand :) In Romania the equivalent for A is 10 and my last year average is 9.70 :)
    Sorry for bothering you with my super loooong comment and sorry if I made some writing mistakes :)

  26. If I could change one thing about school, it would be motivation.

    What I mean is that so often, we students lose sight of why we’re in school. It’s easy to say “because we have to be; because our parents are forcing us to,” even up to and through an undergraduate education. But I believe this is a terrible perspective on school and it’s a sure way to make the least out of our opportunities.

    For some, school is a logical and important step on the road to a career, and nothing more. That’s fine! For others, school is a place to find oneself and to meet new people. Also fine! For some, school is the chance to learn about a wide variety of fascinating topics. Groovy! Others use school to dive into the things that they are passionate about, and to make their life work the work of learning. Rock on.

    There’s a wide variety of ways in which we can use and appreciate our education. I may personally disagree with a few, but the only explanation that I really want to challenge students on is “I don’t know.” If you don’t know, why not sit down and think about it? Maybe it will give you a fresh insight or some much-needed motivation.

    So, how could we change this issue of identifying student motivations in schools? I think it falls into the work of counselors and advisors. I admire both of these professions and I wish every school, at every level of education, could have a lower advisor-to-student ratio. It would be so helpful if each counseling session began with a discussion that promoted self-reflection in the student and asked the question: “Why are you here? What are your educational goals?” We students need to be reminded of this often. It’s easy to lose track and get bogged down by assignments and the semester schedule. But being asked to step back and look at the larger picture of our education could be extremely beneficial to individual students and to the U.S. education system as a whole.

    • M&M: I love your take on this. I often ask struggling students who seem unmotivated why they are in college. They are usually astonished by the question, and it seems that most have them have never been asked – or asked themselves – before. I think your idea of active, involved advisors is a great one. Thank you for your thoughts!

  27. I just came across your blog today. I’m a “non-traditional’ student who is an undergrad at a large state university. I’m studying sociology at present, with a change of major likely in the near future.
    I’d like to see less emphasis on theory and more emphasis on application within most majors. One could sit in a classroom and discuss theory ’til everyone dies of boredom, but until there is a way to tie it into real life, it is time wasted. While a background in theory is important, it shouldn’t be central. For example. I have to write a paper on how Structural Functionalism has impacted the music industry. How will this ever be useful to me?

    I’d also like to see less emphasis on test-taking, rote memorization, less group projects, and more emphasis on applying concepts to one’s field of study. So far that hasn’t been happening. Higher ed. is in crisis in my state, and part of the problem is that it has lost touch with the needs of society and of the student populace.

    • OS: the question of theory vs. practice is such an important one. When I was a grad student, I loved studying theory for theory’s sake. I still do, but these days I’ve found that, if it doesn’t intersect with practice, the thrill fades quickly. Thank you for commenting!

      • One of the things I am coping with in terms of my educational journey is the fact that the thrill is gone. I waited for so many years until I could return to school, only to find that the buik of material that is taking up most of my time and energy is completely useless in the big picture.

        Early on I couldn’t pin down the reasons for my younger classmates’ antipathy or downright apathy, but now I can understand why they feel the way they do. I’m finding myself questioning my return to the classroom. I do know that if I continue to question my place in the classroom, the time for some soul-searching will have come.

  28. When I was 10 I already knew that I wanted to go to university to study languages: English and one more.

    September 2007: I come back to Vigo to start studying. My degree is Translation and Interpreting English/German into Galician/Spanish. The main reason why I wanted to study this was because I wanted to learn German and English. Have I succeeded? Not thanks to school and not on my own.

    We were 100 people in the English class. We’d have 2 hours of theory and 2 to practice (I don’t know what you call them, sorry). It was the same in German, but we were 40, more or less. Although we were supposed to have a certain level of English, some people didn’t. In my case, my English is fine, but just when it comes to talking to people. If I had to use formal language, I just can’t. Not even in Spanish. German was our 2nd foreign language, and some of us had some previous knowledge, others didn’t. We had to start from scratch. The next year we had 3 hours of them per week.

    In Galician (which is one of the 4 official languages spoken in Spain) we had to learn grammar and vocabulary the 1st year, the 2nd one we were learning idioms. There are thousands of them. Just like in Spanish, English, German or any other language.

    Some of the compulsory subjects that we had were totally useless. Not because of the subject, but because of the teachers. We had one teacher who would talk in a very technical way, so nobody understood him. Another one would just sit down while we had to use online tutorials to do what he told us to, etc.

    Last year (the 4th, out of 5) we started with interpretation. Hello? And this year, the last one, is when we are able to “choose” subjects.

    I think that, first of all, the lessons should have only a few students, at least when it comes to languages. Second: more hours of a foreign language. English is a very common one to learn, German not that much, and it is a lot harder. They should help us with grammar, vocabulary, writing, speaking (because some people have been learning English for YEARS and still they aren’t able to talk, either because they are shy, or ashamed, I don’t know). It should be intensive during the first year. Of course, it should be mixed with some translations.

    During the 2nd year we should still have had intensive lessons of the foreign languages. Even of our own ones. And we should have started with interpretation. An introduction.

    Last year we started having specialized subjects, such as the translation of economic texts. Hello, my name is María and I “want” to be a translator. Of course I knew nothing about economy. It’s something I was NEVER interested in, therefore I knew (and still don’t know) anything about it. We had two teachers, and the first one didn’t do much. When we got to the witch, she kept saying that we “should know all this”. Well, Miss, we don’t. What they two should have done was giving us some basic information about economy, I think. This is this, this works that way, etc. But it was not only that, it was the way she treated us. She thought she was better than any of us, just like the one we had in translation of scientific texts this year.

    I could keep complaining about everything, but I don’t wanna bore the people who are going to read this. So I’ll go straight to the point:

    For a better education of people, the first thing are the teachers. Our education, therefore our future, depends on them. So we should have teachers who care. Teachers who like doing what they do, not just being there for the money and the vacation (2-3 months during the summer in here). Once per semester we would get a paper that with had to fill in saying if the subject was important and if the teacher was good. If he/she was good, they’d get some extra money, if not, nothing happened. Why? I don’t know.

    We should also have more hours of class. We are supposed to learn there. However, we had to pay for our school registration (which is quite cheap compared to a lot of places -mine costs around €600-700 per year, although this one it got to over 1000), plus some private teacher. No, I don’t think it works that way. You can do it if you want to get much better, but not to get to where they want you to be but they don’t feel like helping you. Thank god this is the era of technology and thanks to Skype I could talk to foreigners who would teach me, and I’d teach them in return, because tbh, I can’t afford private lessons.

    So, in June/July I will finish my degree and I will not be able to work as a translator/interpreter because my knowledge of languages is not enough, first of all, and secondly, I have no idea about topics such as economy, law, medicine, etc. Being a translator doesn’t mean that we know every word in every language.

    I know it is not just the teachers all the time, it is also something we have to do ourselves. But sometimes I try, and try, and they really don’t care. I have regretted starting university for the past 2 years.

    Anyway, it’s 2:12 am here, so I don’t think I’ve expressed myself properly, but I hope you understand what I mean.

    Have a good day.

  29. Siobhan – I just signed up for WordPress and discovered your blog – brilliant! Have you ever read bell hooks’ “Education as the Practice of Freedom”? I teach college English in the D.C. area and I have just about every class read it. We talk about her writing, naturally, but more than that, I’m really looking to get my students to think about their education and their involvement with their education. In the piece, hooks explores who is responsible for creating a classroom environment and a productive learning experience, and ultimately shows students that much of the responsibility for their educations lies with them. Check it out when you have a chance!

    Happy teaching,
    Erin

    • Erin: Hooks’ “Education” has been recommended to me in the past, and I’ve never gotten around to reading it – I will put it on my list. Thanks for the insight, and for reading!

  30. wow it’s so nice to find a teacher who wil really listen to students about how to teach. In highschool I increasingly find that not all but many teachers believe that, since they are older, have all authority and have little respect to students opinions about how they teach.
    I agree all teachers have different teaching styles an this too causes my mark to drop in the beginning.
    I would love to be able to pick teachers but obviously that’s not possible . Just to have teachers that you know how to work with. Or teachers have been trained to listen to student’s input about their teaching ways. Cause like you said teachers are students too!
    I would love a somehow clearer way to determine our paths after highschool. I feel like I don’t have enough info. I would love to do writing or art but I don’t know–When I grow up, will I suddenly find that I have the capacity to learn a difficult science? What I chose can change my life. And I don’t feel prepared. I feel alone in that decision. I would love to be able to interview teachers about their jobs in their fields I dont know I just wanted to comment since it’s so nice to here from a teacher that cares and i thank you.

    • Thank you, Sumshi! A couple of other commenters have also mentioned that it would be helpful to have support in clarifying their paths after high school, setting goals etc. It seems to be a common concern. Thanks for leaving your thoughts!

  31. I am currently a senior in college majoring in journalism and Spanish, though I’ll be taking a fifth year to finish my studies. I have had a fairly unconventional educational life, with private schooling until I graduated high school followed by two terms of community college and then two years of university at a large public school, and I’m now studying abroad in Spain for the year. My younger sister, who is 13, goes to the same small, independent, vaguely religiousish private school I went to and is trying to decide whether to switch for high school, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the educational system in the US recently.

    My high school is top-notch in my state. They grade HARD, with less than 45 students graduating with a 4.0 GPA (meaning an A average) in the school’s 150+ year history. I always thought this was a good thing, until it came time for me to apply to college. The year I graduated from high school (2008) saw the most seniors looking to head to college in the history of the United States, and competition for decent universities was the fiercest it’s ever been. While GPA isn’t everything when applying to college, it certainly means a good deal. So even though I scored a 2100/2400 on my SATs, had won national awards for my writing throughout high school, was a varsity athlete, had acted in every play but two during my high school career, edited the literary arts magazine, volunteered extensively, and had excellent recommendations from my teachers, my mediocre GPA caused me to be weeded out of the admissions pools from the start. I literally did not get into college PERIOD that year. Whereas my friends who went to public schools, who often had far fewer extracurriculars, got into the schools I was rejected from because it was easier to earn As at their schools, plus with weighted grades (A+ counting as higher than a 4.0, meaning better than perfect) they could make up for any Bs or even Cs on their transcripts.

    Fast forward three years. I am a nationally recognized student journalist. I speak fluent Spanish, write for 2 award-winning magazines at my home university plus a bilingual magazine here in Spain, am a successful member of the equestrian team, and maintain a 3.7 GPA at a top-10 journalism program. I’ve held down a prestigious job at my university for a year and been offered a promotion when I get back from study abroad. And my friends from the public schools with the 4.0 high school GPAs? Many of them struggled dismally the first two years. A few have dropped out completely.

    I’m not trying to say I’m any better than them. A good number of them have done very well in school – better than I have, at times. What I am trying to say is that our grade point averages were in no way predictors of our future success – they were reflections of the very different expectations at our high schools. Many secondary schools (and, to be fair, universities) reward the bare minimum of effort with the highest grades. Mine didn’t – if you wanted an A, you had to be as close to perfection as humanly possible. We put in the same effort, but were given different evaluations.

    Grade inflation is everywhere in the US, and more importantly, grades are seen as the end-all, be-all of school. This completely misses the point of education – which is, of course, to LEARN. I want grades to start actually reflecting the amount of work put in, but I also want grades to be less important in the world. As I watch my sister (who, like I was at that age, is very precocious but not necessarily a good STUDENT in the traditional sense) decide between our local public school, which is famous for churning out graduates with high GPAs and very little actual knowledge, and my old private school, I worry a lot about the consequences. And at the same time, I’m thinking about graduate school – another application process that puts a ton of emphasis on grades. I’m a more competitive applicant this time, but only because I’ve obsessed so much over my GPA in college – at times to the detriment of my actual education.

    So to make a long story short, the educational system needs to CALM DOWN about grades. If people put less emphasis on 4.0 GPAs, grade inflation would be much less of a problem, and students could focus on actually learning the material and taking challenging, interesting classes.

  32. I havent read all the way through the other responses so I am not sure if this has been articulated already, but as a sophomore in college I feel that one of the things that needs to be changed in school is the frequent lack of real world applications (I refused to learn box and whisker plots for 8 years of school because they only ever appeared on standardized tests and no one could ever tell me when I would ever use them outside of that situation).

    I find it a great deal easier to learn and retain information when I can understand how it is useful to me to know. This is especially true of math and sciences, and I feel that it is very much an overlooked aspect of humanities. I think that students should be helped to understand that they aren’t just learning the causes of the Civil War, they are learning how to assess cause and effect relationships and analyze the validity of data and an infinite number of other things that are extremely valuable in the real world. These aspects of so many classes are glossed over and just assumed to be understood when I think they need to be emphasized and made a main part of class. You aren’t just learning history, you are learning valuable life skills if only you know that they’re there to learn. A mess of knowledge is useless unless you are also taught how to apply it.

    I have also been frustrated in the past by lack of in depth discussion. I know that it is at times very difficult to present data other than as a series of facts to memorize, but that is the worse way to receive information for me. If there is a discussion that requires me to buckle down and consider a point of view and defend it than I will have a much stronger understanding of the concepts and a much greater knowledge of the facts than if I just stared at a list of terms for a few hours. Information and learning should be an engaging process, it shouldn’t involve passively receiving information but actively pursuing it.

    • Shannon: Thanks for this. Better understanding of the real-world application of what they’re learning is, I agree, something that would make a lot of aspects of school more meaningful for a lot of students.

  33. Society has this idea that certain levels of education are necessary for a person to have any worth. I think this is a ridiculous idea that is harming students today. In many circles, a person is told they must at least have a college bachelor’s degree in order to get a job or be respected in society. Just going to a technical school or learning a trade is not enough anymore. And yet, if everyone is getting a college degree, then soon even that will not be enough. How far will we push those outrageous expectations?

    Because of those expectations and the increased attendance rate at universities and colleges, it seems that our value of education is lowering dramatically. With increased class sizes and more and more fees everywhere a student turns it is so difficult for the average student to get a good education. I know so many students (including myself) who have to take a packed class load while working one or two jobs on the side just to get by without starving. How is a student to get a quality education while stressed to the max?

    The thing that has frustrated me the most in my college career has been the useless classes I have had to take. I realize that part of this is because I am going to a liberal arts Bible college. However, I do not think a student should be forced to take (and PAY for!) classes that they do not need. That part of the system is definitely messed up. College is not the place for high school students to play catch-up at the expense of their fellow students.

    The last comment I have to make is about how prepared college students are to actually face the world. My biggest complaint is with the Teacher Licensure programs around the country. I had so many teachers in high school fresh out of college that had no idea how to actually function in a classroom and deal with students. When a carpenter learns his trade, he does not spend the majority of his time sitting on his backside learning theories of carpentry. He also does not spend only a few months doing actual hands-on carpentry. If such a method would not work for a carpenter, then how can we expect it to work for a teacher? Teaching really is a skill that cannot be learned sitting in a room learning theories and making cut-outs. Students of teaching need to BE teachers and spend most of their time practicing in order to become skilled. Most Teacher Licensure students at my college spend three and a half years in the classroom with a practicum thrown here or there and only one semester actually teaching. Even though it is not my personal goal to become a teacher, I have spent almost every summer for the past seven years working in a summer school classroom. Comparing my experience with what some of my friends are learning in a classroom shows a major discrepancy in ability and skill level. My exposure and experience actually being in the classroom have prepared me more than years of sitting in class have prepared them.

    It seems that the push for a college education has caused schools to create degrees for things that do not need a conventional college degree. Students are then forced to sit through boring and unnecessary classes in order to achieve their goals.

  34. If I could change just one thing about school, it would be the concept of seat time. As educators the job is not to educate the body, but to education the mind. Why do we accept the idea of time as the equivalent of learning? It is the antithesis of differentiation. Some students simply learn faster than others, so why do we force them to conform to the idea of seat time? It is possible to shift to a model of education that follows a simple assessment, teach, reassess, and release model. It is also possible to shift to a concept of a flipped classroom in which a traditional lecture can be broken up into segments, played in five to ten minute video clips online, and class time can be used as the practice and discussion time for authentic learning to take place. These simple changes can redesign the classroom to something a bit more efficient, but the real question will continue to be “are the students learning?”.

    I really enjoy your blog by the way. It is nice to see people be reflective practicioners in their respective fields.

    • Thanks! We have a code at our college that says that students can’t be graded explicitly on attendance. I would love to know more about schools in which students are not required to attend classes at specific times or for specific durations. Maybe you know of some examples?

      • Unfortunately, I do not know of any examples where this is the case. A few universities I’ve attended have had unwritten rules about this, but never policy. Typically it is a case by case example, but with tools such as Blackboard, D2L, and Moodle, much of the learning and discussion can take place online. I have had instructors who have literally said “I am here to instruct the part of your body that is in your head, not in your chair” and made us do most of the work outside of class. I’ve always felt that it was respectful of my time as a graduate student, and respectful of my abilities as a professional.

  35. Siobhan–great questions.

    I’m in my forties, and I am lucky to have a brain that fits school. I always did well, I can spell beautifully, and I can write. I can sit still, study, and take tests, so I got pats on the head, good grades, and a good job after college.

    I have a son who is very smart (high IQ), can’t sit still, and is dyslexic. School is a serious struggle for kids like him. He goes to a science camp every summer where he thrives–lots of walking around, learning about the things he can touch, feel, and see, digging for fossils, observing ants, trees, stars, and wildlife, and my son is in his element. He learns, he’s engaged, he comes home with more in his head after a week at science camp than a year of middle school science class.

    Why, why can’t learning in traditional school involve more actual doing, than just books and flat sheets of paper? If he could build a house, measure a board, do something real, in three dimensions, instead of absorb algebra equations from a book or a projector, he would be engaged and an active, participatory learner.

    The world is in three dimensions. School, by and large, is in two. Books, paper, projectors, and writing are two-dimensional.

    I’ve recently read about the British “Studio Schools” movement (http://studioschoolstrust.org/) that is created around a “learn by doing” model, where workshops, laboratories, and hands-on experiences are integrated into every aspect of learning. Have you read about these, and what do you think?

    We need to do something for people who learn best with their hands and whole bodies. Some days, helping my son with his schoolwork feels like teaching a fish to fly. I know he’s smart. Just not in the way that traditional school can appreciate.

    • Tina: I have not heard of the Studio Schools – thank you for providing the link! I will go take a look at their setup, as it sounds very intriguing. Thanks for weighing in on this. The sit-down-and-read-something structure of traditional schools is a problem for so many kids; it’s odd that the system hasn’t evolved in more, different directions to allow for different ways of learning.

      • I guess I’m tired of the model that says that kids with high grades (i.e. those with brains that fit the structure we’ve created) are “smart” and those who learn in different ways are not. I know my son is smart. I’ve got lots of tests that show it. I hope that someone with his intelligence has more to do in the world than become a carpenter or plumber–which is where we tend to relegate people who prefer to do things with their hands. Lots of adult professions for very smart people involve doing real-world tasks in three dimensions (nurse, podiatrist, geologist, wildlife biologist), but they don’t get to do them until after 16+ years of two-dimensional education. We met a prosthetic limb designer–crossover between mechanical engineering and medicine, and very hands-on coordination of mechanics, electronics, biophysics, and medicine. These people who do these tasks exist, but we expect kids to do 16 years of math and science classes first.

  36. As a middle school student, I could be biased because as a teenager I just think that all of school is stupid.But I’m not. I’m going to do my best to give a fair report about what should be changed at schools. For me, the main problem is standardized testing. The need to memorize everything for one test to forget a week later has always seemed pointless. And of course it is always hard to learn in an unsupportive environment. The only way to fix that, though, is to improve upon the quality of teachers. Most teachers are kind and supportive, but every so often there is a teacher that comes along that gives teachers in general a really awful name. So pretty much those two things: standardized testing and horrible teachers.

  37. I would change the teaching skills and strategies. I know teachers sometimes go off on fancy trips in the summers to go to workshops and meetings and classes, but the strategies middle school teachers are learning are stupid.

  38. -focus more on going green, have fundraisers with recycling, having a Go Green Week where everyone can make crafts out of recyclable materials.
    -focus on clubs, allowing and encouraging students all year to create and join clubs, getting involved, and building THEIR leadership skills
    -Having more dances, school carnivals, all grades can attend
    -Allowing students to share their opinions, encouraging them to tell Student Council their suggestions, putting a box in the office and checking it at least once a week.
    -Create a club or allow Student Council to communicate with students about improvements, or discussing the topic every once in awhile,
    -Have a Spirit Day at least once a week, allowing suggestions from students

    ~Student Council

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