Recently, I spent a weekend with my parents back in the town where I grew up. I took the opportunity to snag a few photos of my elementary school. Although the building is no longer used as a school, it still stands as a local landmark in my hometown. Every time I drive past that building, or think back to the my elementary school years, I’m left with a smile. The memories that make me smile have less to do with the content that was covered or my success on standardized tests, and more to do with the relationships that were built and the experiences that occurred there. Of course I did learn content, and I did pass standardized tests, but these memories pale in comparison to the experiences that developed in me a love of learning and a love of reading.
As I was enjoying my weekend of nostalgia, I came across this Science Alert (http://pda.sciencealert.com.au/news/20131606-24485.html) that suggests that student engagement has more influence on students’ future success than grades do. Of course teachers already know how important engagement is, but it’s nice to have research to support the idea. Perhaps then, it is exactly this happy nostalgia that contributed more to my success than the grades I made. Maybe my memory has highlighted what was truly important in my elementary school days.
When I think about today’s students, however, I wonder if they will smile fondly as they remember their years in elementary (or middle) school. Or will their school memories be clouded with too much testing and the stress that comes with demands to master too much content? Will they have memories of engaging opportunities in school, or will they look back on school as an obstacle they had to overcome to get to the “real world?”
As teachers, we understand that standards and accountability aren’t going away, but we must work hard to make sure that they don’t take away opportunities for student engagement–opportunities that can lead to success and to these same feelings of nostalgia in our students in the future.