Are You Doing Enough to Prepare Your Students for the Real World?

teachers

Though your students may wonder aloud about the real world application of course topics such as calculus and Romantic poetry, these classes serve as valuable building blocks that develop essential job and life skills for life outside the classroom.

Are Students Prepared for Life After High School?

During my freshman year of college, I took a course called 'Finite Math with Applications' that changed the way I thought about education. The course focused on the use of math in financial matters and included lessons on loan interest, balancing a checkbook, and how mortgages work. I remember being pleasantly surprised because for perhaps the first time, I was taking a math class that had tangible benefits.

After finishing this class, my first thought was 'Why wasn't I learning this in high school?' Why did I have to wait until I was 18 before finally taking a course that would help me in the real world? My situation is far from unique; research indicates that a mere 25 percent of high school seniors scored proficient or higher in college-level math, while only 37 percent of students scored proficient or higher in college-level reading.

unprepared student

Assessing Responsibility

A more detailed look at these numbers provides a curious insight into the situation. A recent survey of students found that 60 percent of college students would have worked harder in high school if they had been aware of the rigorous demands of college and the workplace. The same survey, however, also found that 87 percent of recent high school graduates felt that they would have put forth more effort if their high schools had implemented more challenging academic standards, and students who reported that their schools had high standards were far more likely to feel prepared for the real world.

This information highlights a key issue: who is responsible for a student's success, the student or the teacher? The students in the survey admitted that they needed to work harder, but these same students also blamed their schools for not providing enough of a challenge.

cooperation

As is often the case, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Students have a responsibility to make an effort, but teachers are obligated to challenge their pupils and force them to reach higher. It's natural to feel sympathy for your students, but you need to push them in order to ensure their future success. The real world is not easy, and students who enter it with experience will be more likely to succeed than those who had an easier route.

The Real World is Everywhere, Including the Classroom

If you sense a lack of preparedness, you may be wondering how you can help your students get ready for life after school.

One of the most common complaints any teacher can expect to hear is the famous 'why do we need to learn this?' line. Students of all ages constantly complain about being forced to learn material that has little bearing on their futures, but what many students fail to realize is that succeeding in the 'real world' requires much more than knowledge.

In addition to being intelligent, a good employee must also be punctual, diligent, and focused. In almost all circumstances, employers will choose a candidate with average skills and a good work ethic over a brilliant but lazy candidate.

In this way, the day-to-day grind of the classroom is an excellent training tool for a career. Dr. Thomas Armstrong, Executive Director of the American Institute for Learning and Human Development, points out that even if your classes seem to have little connection to the career interests of your pupils, you can prepare them for the real world by focusing on tasks such as job shadowing, internships, or apprenticeships that are just as important for students once they leave school and seek employment.

instruction

It's not Just What You Learn, it's How You Learn it

I will freely admit that I was exactly the type of student described above. I distinctly remember sitting in my biology class and wondering why I would ever need to remember the role of nucleic acid in a living organism. While the content itself may not be especially relevant, some skills transfer to all fields.

Though I've forgotten most of my scientific knowledge, what I haven't lost are the research and critical thinking skills I picked up along the way. I now know how to approach an unknown concept and gather enough information to find a solution. I know how to conduct research and I have the logical capabilities to work out problems that confuse me. One particularly challenging course (Introduction to Astronomy) proved so difficult that I had to Google relaxation techniques to deal with the stress. To this day, I still use these techniques to calm down when I'm feeling anxious.

With the advantage of hindsight, I now realize that the finite math class I mentioned earlier was simply the culmination of several years of learning. As useful as this class was, it didn't actually teach me any new math skills. Instead, it drew on the adding, dividing, and multiplying skills that I had already acquired and showed me how to use them in a practical setting. All those years slogging through geometry and algebra suddenly paid off as I understood how to use them to manage my money.

Thanks to these seemingly useless courses, I can perform essential functions such as finishing my tax returns with (relative) ease thanks to the knowledge and experience that I acquired in these courses. Knowing how to learn information is just as important as the information itself.

knowledge

Though schools may seem to ignore real world skills in favor of more monotonous and seemingly irrelevant subjects, the skills that your students will acquire as they progress will serve them well beyond the classroom. Students need a well-rounded education in order to succeed, one that goes further than simply teaching them important information. By driving home the importance of workplace skills such as a good work ethic and daily effort, you can help prepare your students for the real world.

By Bill Sands
March 2017
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