The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

College and Career Readiness

In the middle of a math lesson this afternoon, I found myself reflecting on my purpose for teaching. To be honest, I have many purposes for doing what I do. My primary objective is, as I have shared so many times in the past, to enable my students to get by without me. Put another way, my goal is to help my students learn how they learn so that they can learn without me telling them what to learn. Or, to put it as simply as possible, my goal for teaching is to have a classroom of independent thinkers.

And yet, wrapped up in these rather philosophical statements are some very concrete, very realistic objectives. These objectives, which are absolutely long-term goals, are what I was reflecting on today. My goal as a fourth grade teacher is not, in fact, to get my students through the fourth grade. That is just one of the steps. My goal also is not to get them ready for fifth grade, although that is also a step. My real goal, the one that is so far down the road that my 9-, 10-, and 11-year-old charges rarely think about it, is to prepare them for life after school which is, in many ways, life itself.

The Common Core State Standards were developed with this same purpose in mind. That may be one of the reasons why I am such a strong supporter of them. I have had these beliefs as an educator for far longer than the Common Core has been around. The standards were started when several state leaders got together with education and business leaders and asked this question: What are we doing anyway? And the answer that they finally came to was this: we are preparing for students to go to college and/or enter the workforce. More specifically, we are preparing them to be ready to do those things. That’s what I view as my objective, as well. It isn’t to get them through fourth grade, or through elementary school, or even through high school. It is to get them ready to do whatever it is they decide to do next.

I teach with the goal that my students, whether one year, ten years, or twenty years down the road, will be able to do whatever it is they choose to do. If they choose to start working at a fast-food restaurant mopping the floors and cleaning the grease traps, I want them to know that they can do that. If they want to create an Internet start-up that offers an innovative new service to consumers, I want them to know that they can do that. If they want to go to Parkland College, the University of Illinois, or Harvard, I want them to know that they can do that. If they want to start working at a factory where they can rise through the ranks of skilled labourers and become the factory foreman, I want them to know that they can do that. Whatever it is, whenever they set their hearts on doing it, I want to know that I have done my part in getting them ready.

So when I am teaching a lesson on long division or adding mixed numbers, when I am supervising them during recess or monitoring athletic activities, when I am helping them set up a science experiment to explore the water cycle or finding information on the Lewis and Clark expedition, I am doing it with an eye toward the future. Toward the day my students, grown and wiser, decide they want to do something and realise that nothing is going to stand in their way.

That’s my goal. That’s my objective. That’s my hope. That’s my job.

And I love it.

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