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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Letter To My Former Students

LETTER TO MY FORMER STUDENTS:


Dear Former Students,

I must admit that I was sometimes frustrated when I would see you, after you had graduated, and you would tell me about what you remembered from my class; the NFL picks, my white shoes, the silly games we played, the fun conversations we had, the stories we told, my rare clothes, and the non traditional projects we did.

I always thought to myself:

"I was their science teacher for a whole year, and all they remember from my class is the NFL picks, my white shoes, the silly games we played, the fun conversations we had, the stories we told, my rare clothes, and the non traditional projects we did?"

It made me feel like I had let you down. It made me think that I had spent too much time having fun and getting to know you, and not enough time rigorously memorizing the content standards.  Had I hurt your chances of being successful later in life?  I sure hoped not.  I remember one time, I was with a couple of my friends, who are also teachers.  A group of three former students came up and talked to me for 10 minutes, talking about all of the fun things we did and all of the crazy times we had.  I felt kind of stupid.  What would these other teachers think about me?  I had these kids in class for a whole year and they only remembered the fun/crazy stuff?  It made me feel like I wasn't doing my job and that the other teachers would judge me.

I have now had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of you after you have graduated from high school.  I wanted to thank you for visiting me and letting me know that you had a good time in my class and that you remember it.  I want to thank you for all of the smiles and nice things that you have said to me, after all of these years.  I wanted to let you know that I remember you being in class as well.  I haven't forgotten any student I have ever had in class.  I wanted to let you know that I had a good time as well.

Over the past couple of years, I have had some experiences that have changed the way I look at life.  I started implementing more non-traditional educational practices and even co-founded an entire interdisciplinary, project-based, rigorous but relevant, high school program.  In doing this I saw students elated to be learning and feeling special and important because they had the opportunity to help others and the community while they learned.  My wife went through two years of hell, fighting off breast cancer.  She went through a double mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, and a lot of stress.  We had two children, who are now 3 years old and 4 years old.  They are awesome.  They have given me a whole new perspective on life and being young again. All of these experience helped me to realize something very important:

It helped me realize that school is a FANTASY WORLD.  The system claims to be preparing you for your future in the real-world; however, they are demanding you learn information and develop skills you will never use again.  Most administration and staff are completely "disconnected from the real-world", which I am constantly reminded of by businesses I collaborate with. Yet, the adults in the school claim to be confidently preparing you for that same "real world".  We made you take so many notes.  We made you do so many worksheets (90% of which didn't reinforce any important skills).  We made you take so many multiple choice and standardized tests.

For everyone that was trying at school, we made your life so very stressful.  We robbed you of too much time when you were just a "kid" and should have been able to spend more time being a "kid".  We concerned you way too much with flashcards, deadlines, homework, and quizzes.

For everyone who wasn't trying at school, either because you lost hope and self-esteem because you were not good at it or because you had a much more difficult home life than I can imagine, the school was so cruel to you.  I apologize that they continuously called you out in front of your peers, acted angry towards you, took away your eligibility to play sports, and made you stay in at lunch recess and after school to do more worksheets.

I truly apologize about all of this.
 Looking back, I was part of the problem.  I must tell you, though, that I didn't know any better.  Honestly.  I had just come out of 17 years of schooling and started to do what almost every other teacher has always done.  I was being the robot the system had programmed me to be.  I followed along and played the game.  I settled for the status quo.  I apologize.  I finally realized that you are not a holding tank for irrelevant facts (remember having to know all of the dumb organelles of the cell and all of the little phases of photosynthesis.  Ha!).  You are not a subordinate.  You are not a grade.  You are a person.  I apologize that I was unknowingly lying to you and claiming to you that we were truly preparing you for your future and not our past.  As I always promised you, though, if at any point, I didn't think I was doing everything in your best interest, I would resign and fight to fix the problem.  I just wanted to let you know that I resigned and I am spending every day that I have fighting the problem.

I am fighting for the education system to respect students for being the living, breathing, caring people that they are.  I am fighting for them to stop lying to you and convincing you that you need to memorize all of those facts.  I am fighting for them to stop testing you so much.  I am fighting for them to stop comparing you to everyone else in your class, on irrelevant standards, although you are a unique individual with a wide variety of different talents.  I am fighting for them to give kids autonomy, purpose, and mastery.  I am fighting for them to help get kids passionate about life and then be by your side when you need help learning about life and how to learn.  I am fighting for them to empower you and give you a voice.

Remember all of those days we did the NFL picks game, laughed about my white shoes, the silly games we played, the fun conversations we had, the stories we told, my rare clothes, and when we did the non-traditional projects that you second guessed because they were not "regular school".

THOSE ARE THE ONLY TIMES I AM NOT APOLOGIZING ABOUT.  Those are the times when there was mutual respect in the room, when we were LIVING, when we were laughing, and we felt safe and secure.  Those are the times when we were becoming more passionate about life and learning, and more concerned with helping others.  Those were the times that we were actually preparing for our futures, as unique as they would all be.  We were practicing being people.  Those are the times when we were actually learning, creating, analyzing, and collaborating on things that were relevant and important.

You, the students, were not the only ones learning in that room.  I obviously had a lot to learn as well, and I thank you dearly for helping me to do so.

As I always emphasized in class, stand up for yourself!  Be the change you want to see.  You are a wonderful person and you have the potential to do anything.  Don't settle for anything less than excellent!  You deserve it!

Until we meet again......

Sincerely,
Mr. Schinkten


I made this video for you!






 Twitter:  Oliver Schinkten (@schink10)
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Email: oschink@gmail.com
Email: oliverschinkten@assistedshift.com



7 comments:

  1. >Wow, Oliver! You said it!
    >"I am fighting for the education system to respect students for being the living, breathing, caring people that they are. I am fighting for them to stop lying to you and convincing you that you need to memorize all of those facts. I am fighting for them to stop testing you so much. I am fighting for them to stop comparing you to everyone else in your class, on irrelevant standards, although you are a unique individual with a wide variety of different talents. I am fighting for them to give kids autonomy, purpose, and mastery. I am fighting for them to help get kids passionate about life and then be by your side when you need help learning about life and how to learn. I am fighting for them to empower you and give you a voice."
    >Your manifesto really resonates with me... and I hear it echoing increasingly through the twitterverse, in the halls of schools, universities and institutions concerned with the spirit-life of our children. Thank you for crystallizing this vision for us to see.
    As somebody said recently so passionately: We can do better!

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    1. Thank you! Your kind words are greatly appreciated. I am happy to hear that the message resonated with you and that there are more people out there striving to help make "change in education" a reality! Thank you for everything you do!

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  2. Well said, Mr. Schinkten, well said. My older daughter had the PRIVILEGE of having you as a teacher for not one, not two, but FOUR consecutive years. She is constantly telling me how much she learned from you and how much she misses you. You have a passion for education that far surpasses 95% of today's teachers - and I fear that passion is dwindling at an exponential rate. You individualized education. You recognized the sensitive soul of my older daughter when it came to certain projects. You helped her acclimate to a world in dire need of 21st Century Skills. You also were able to recognize my daughter as a person - when she struggled with being in a home with only a single mom...and when Mom was having her own health issues including cancer and genetic disease. You indirectly had a major impact on my younger daughter, who did not have the privilege of having you as a teacher and she learned that seeing the world through the eyes of Autism is not a disability but rather a unique ability. I applaud you for the work you are doing. When I was a Junior in high school, the school just began work on their first computer lab - with Apple IIe's. I taught myself how to navigate a computer and to grasp what the internet was (when I was a senior in my undergraduate degree pursuit). In 2015, there is no excuse for there to be such an incredible deficit in 21st Century skills. I admire your passion and your work. I would like to come along side you as well. I have heard my older daughter's mantra of, "Why do I have to learn this?" too many times. She wants to be a psychologist and she recognizes that she doesn't need to know signs and cosines of angles and multiple exponents and various square roots and imaginary numbers. Communities has helped fuel her passion, communication skills, and project/service-oriented learning. Art and Music classes have fueled her creativity which spills over into every other class. Thankfully, both of my girls, who both had the opportunity to give up long ago, have taken the road less traveled. Thankfully, both of my girls, in part to your influence, have chosen to give 150% and dutifully memorize useless and meaningless facts. Thank you for your work. Please let me know how I can come alongside you.

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  3. Thank you, Carey! Your kind words are greatly appreciated. Hearing positive feedback from parents and students is worth more than a million dollars to me. Thank you! You and your family have taught me a ton about life and have inspired me to be a better person. Your kindness, willingness to participate and share, willingness to step outside of your comfort zone, and your wisdom have had a great impact on me. I admire and respect everything that you have done! I miss being in the classroom so much this year, as I love working with the students. I promise that everything I am doing is for the students as I do believe they deserve better!

    I love a quote that I saw recently by Kare Anderson on her TED Talk. She said "The world is hungry for us to unite together as opportunity makers". My hope is that we can all unite together to demand more from education in providing relevant, engaging and inspirational educational opportunities that help our children prepare for their future as, not only workers, but people. We have the ability to personalize education, help students explore their passions and strengths, and empower them to change the world as they learn. I believe students deserve these opportunities! Thank you for everything you do!!!

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  4. Thanks Schink for the year of amazing classes. You made school fun for me. I hope you have the best of luck being you. Have a great day!

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  5. Thank you for your kind words! Your positive words are worth more than a million dollars! Honestly. Thank you for everything that you have done. You are a great person with a bright future! Let me know if there is ever anything I can help with!

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  6. Thank you for being a great teacher! The science classes in middle school were so fun. I remember so much about it! Our science group, water testing, being apart of science club, and all the experiences that came with it. My friends and I spent so much time in your classroom- everyday at lunch, listening to party rock anthem or Yo Gabba Gabba, it was so much fun. I am really happy I was able to have you as a teacher for 5 years. Thank you for everything!

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