[This is a guest post from Tucker, a recently-graduated high school student. He wrote this for his senior year Comp class.]
Hearing the phrase “Get out your textbooks” from a high school teacher makes me want to throw up, and it is something I have heard for the last four years in almost every class from almost every teacher. Textbooks are filled with valuable information but are often boring, outdated, and even physically damaged from past use. In this day and age of “21st Century Learning,” it is insane that we are using 19th and 20th Century teaching strategies.
Most students today do not respond to textbook learning, and yet it is one of the most common ways for teachers to dispense information. Teaching out of a textbook is easy. It does not require teachers to step out of their comfort zone and find new ways to connect with students who are so eager to learn something useful that they can actually apply to their lives. The stereotype of students today is that they are uninterested in anything the school system has to offer. However, that is a complete lie. Students simply become uninterested because each school day seems to them like they have woken up in the movie “Groundhog Day” and go through the exact same motions as the day before. There is not a problem with the students, but with the dreaded textbook that has been around for so long it has become the status quo of teaching tools.
I will agree that the information in textbooks can be valuable to students. The information is not the issue. The issue is that many teachers today will hand out a packet they did not even create, tell the students to look up the information in the textbooks and copy down the answers word for word, and then go back to their desks where they will get on their computers and check their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Sometimes they may even see one of their students tweeting about how bored in class they are, and yet they will go right on down the page hoping to find something that makes them laugh out loud instead of things that make them consider how well they are doing their job. I am afraid that this routine is something the next generation of teachers will find themselves well accustomed to.
I want my classes to be interactive and exciting! I want to be moving around the room, working with other students to solve a real world problem that can eventually tie back into what we are actually learning in the class. Students should want every class to go on longer and be surprised when the bell rings because the period went by so fast. They should not be checking the clock every five minutes hoping for a random fire drill that will speed up the hour, and then waiting at the door for five minutes at the end of the period staring down the second hand as it travels endlessly around the clock. Textbook teaching allows these things to happen, and it is really a tragedy for both students and teachers.
Every day teachers should be standing in the front of the room challenging their students to a higher level of thinking, and in return the teachers will be challenged themselves. Where is the challenge in handing out novel-sized textbook packets to students who will most likely not remember anything they copied down? To truly challenge the students, teachers must actually spend time outside of school researching new tools that help connect with students on a more personal level. The more teachers push themselves to connect and interact with their students in order to boost their ability to critical think and retain knowledge, the better the teacher will become. Over time, there is no limit to how good a teacher can become if they have that mindset and expect the most out of themselves. On the other hand, the more and more they use textbooks, which is the easy way to do things, the worse they will become at teaching and inspiring their students to actually want to learn. That is why textbooks have become the crutch of high school teachers. They are so incredibly easy to lean on, but if they were taken away many teachers would be absolutely lost because they have not challenged themselves to create more of a 21st Century learning environment in their classrooms.
The new job market requires students to have 21st Century learning skills, so it is not a surprise many students struggle when they get out of high school and college because they have been taught in a 19th and 20th Century learning environment. If schools want to create students that are competitive and indispensable in the job market they must ditch the textbooks and challenge their teachers to challenge themselves, and in return inspire students to achieve a love for learning, which can truly take them anywhere they want to go.
Image credit: The eventual destination of the Thursday folder worksheets: The circular file