Students need opportunities to find and pursue their passions
Many students discover their passions as a result of their experiences in school. For some it is sports or music. For others it is a special class or club that drives them to get up in the morning. Most of these activities have eligibility requirements that serve as an extrinsic motivator to ensure that students perform well in their academic classes.
At Heights High, hundreds of our students are involved in sports, marching band, dance squad, and more. Students participate in these voluntarily even though most of these activities require dedication.
One of my students told me recently that she had three athletic events during one week when she could not do her schoolwork until 10 at night! I was appalled, but understood her desire to pursue an activity in which she excelled.
I recently came across (and recycled) a journal from the first half of my junior year. There was no mention of my classes except for music. I was surprised how full my schedule was with school, a custodial job, and Boy Scouts. I must have made time for my other classes, but I guess the only one worth mentioning that semester was music.
Because I was at Heights during the pre-standardized-test era, there was time for more academic electives. For example, there were semester-long English courses on a wide variety of topics: literature of the Holocaust (the first class of its kind in the country), fiction, African-American literature, literature of death and dying, satire, and more.
Teachers loved to develop these courses and reveled in sharing their interests with students. Most of these electives were eliminated over the years, the result of needing to conform to state requirements, or to push students into college-level courses.
I would argue that any of these classes would have been perfect for college-level work, but the state prefers “standardized” students instead of inquisitive students looking to find their passion, their own way to love learning, and connect with a teacher who demonstrates these ideals by living them.
The other day, one of my students told me that she was upset because the new course guide did not include most of the electives she was interested in. As a result, she will probably end up spending her time off campus in alternative programs or with a reduced class schedule.
We must re-examine the offerings at the high school on an annual basis to ensure that we not only offer a basic, standards-based curriculum, but also choices that will enable students to become more well-rounded and worldly based on their academic experiences.
School is tougher than it has ever been for students. They have to know more information, and know it earlier in their student careers, and they are held accountable based on tests that limit their capabilities and interests.
Narrowing our high school course offerings removes incentives for students to be successful because they find these classes less interesting. I hope we continue to find ways to excite each and every student’s capacity for, and love of, learning.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.