I have two projects from Elementary School that I most remember. The first was a poem entitled, “The Tree”. I remember it because I received some positive accolade or other from the teacher and then it was mounted and displayed publicly at some event. The second was a speech I was chosen to give, along with three other students, to the parents at 6th grade graduation. We stood on the playground in front of the rows of chairs and I gave a speech in which I took the position to defend euthanasia. I was ten years old and I remember it to this day. Most likely because I thought, “huh, maybe this is one thing I can be good at“. You know what? Today I’m as comfortable speaking to a large group of people as I am talking at the dinner table.
What’s significant about remembering those two things is that it demonstrates what matters to our kids. When they get to create and produce something of their own that then receives some public recognition, it has more meaning for them. It’s why social media and sites that allow our kids to create and post publicly are so wildly popular. The student thinks, “The class we’re skyping with is going to see this, or all of the people who come to the Academic Fair will, or anyone who reads our class website/blog/wiki/glogster page/google doc.” That has more value for most kids than when only the teacher sees the project and gives feedback.
The second memory, about the 6th grade speech, is significant because it taught me something about myself. Helping our kids figure out what they’re good at and encouraging them is one of the most valuable life lessons our school can support. Especially if we can teach our children that not everyone has to be an athlete or a dancer to be successful and valuable. Even as young as ten, I knew I wasn’t the smartest kid in the class or the prettiest or skinniest or the most athletic or _____________ (whatever, fill in the blank). Here was something the teacher thought I could do well, better than all but three other students in the sixth grade! It always came as a bit of surprise to me when I made it for something or came out on top—AND those are the moments when I began to figure out who I was, at what I could excel, and most important, who I could be in my future. That’s what mattered most from my Grades 1-12 experience, not that I knew I wanted to be a teacher (I didn’t) but that I had a strong sense of who I was, what I did well and what was best left to those who did it better.