Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Sister Just Graduated from High School. So I Interviewed Her.

Image Source, User Violey, Pixabay.com 

As both a teacher and Chief Learning Officer at CrowdSchool, I really try to understand the school experience of students. We live in a world obsessed with education reform, education technology, and student data. Everybody has a plan to revolutionize education. With all the noise, it is not surprising that the voice of the student is rarely heard. Education is something done to them, seemingly without their reflection, opinion, or input. How would school be different if we actually listened to them?

My little sister graduated from high school a few weeks ago. I wanted to hear her thoughts about high school. I wanted to simply listen and learn from her experience. So I interviewed her.

First, a bit of context. My little sister, Tara, is pretty much a rockstar. Tara was a four year varsity athlete, a class salutatorian, and was accepted with honors to multiple universities. Tara received the highest leadership award at her high school. She is energetic, hilarious, kind, and well-liked. She has a relentless work ethic, spending hours and hours on homework and assignments. She pulled many all nighters in high school. Me, I maybe had one or two…in college. I simply do not know a single person who worked harder than her in high school. Her drive is inspiring.

My parents and my sister on her graduation day.

This relentless pursuit also worried me. Was it healthy? Was it sustainable?Was she over scheduled? How stressed was she? It is a story I have heard often. Students push and push and push only to burnout, to lose all motivation and desire. Learning is one of the farthest things from these students’ minds. Instead, they are called to achieve and perform. Constantly. At what point does one break? What are we expecting of our kids today?

So I asked her all about it. Below you will find her answers. I do not add my analysis. I do not pontificate. Yes, I have very passionate views on education. I do not include them here (even though I had a desire to add my opinion). I just want her words to speak to the experience of one high schooler.

Here are the words of my sister, a graduating senior from a private Catholic school in Fresno, CA.

My sister, Tara, pictured on the right

What was your favorite part about high school? 

  • “Academically, I really liked block schedules because homework and classes were spread out. Extracurricular stuff like dances and sports were fun and things I looked forward to.” 

What was your least favorite part about high school? 

  • “All the all-nighters. Teachers are inconsiderate when thinking about tests and homework. When you try to tell them, they all say they signed up on the test board first.” 

What was the most important thing you learned in high school? 

  • “Even though I got senioritis really bad, I was happy to learn all the hard work pays off. Even if you get stressed and think you can’t go on, achieving the goal pays off, the work was worth it.” 

What qualities do the best teachers share? 

  • “They have to be able to relate to students without being too strict or too easy going. They need to be interesting and change things ups. They need to be able to keep control of kids and run a classroom, but they have to be relatable. They need to be approachable without being a pushover.” 

What qualities do the worst teachers share? 

  • “They have a really boring voice and are monotoned. They can’t find new ways to teach a lesson. If they are too strict, kids don’t want to be there. They need to have a personality that allows students to ease up.” 

What is one thing teachers need to know about kids? 

  • “I wish teachers knew that we (students) want to know why we are in school and doing the work. It needs to be more than ‘you just need to do that’.” 

Why do kids need school? 

  • “They need it to be successful for their future, for the things they want even if some kids think that we are there because our parents make us.” 

How is social media used at school? 

  • “As a teenager we use social media for enjoyment. We need something to entertain us. We are bored. We started to use it more at school and for assignments. We also use social media to escape from reality and as a way to express yourself.” 

What would make a great school? 

  • “Block schedules. Opportunities to learn from both books and technology. You need to use them both. Do things to keep school interesting. Lots of AP credits and courses. Small classes and high teacher interaction.”

 How stressed were you? 

  • “We were all really stressed, like everyone was extremely stressed. We were so stressed to the point we didn’t want to do anything. It took away all energy or excitement for school.” 

          (Follow up question) So why more AP classes? 

  • “Not taking more, but offering more variety of AP classes. More things like AP Art. I meant variety. Students want to challenge themselves in things that appeal to them. There needs to be a variety for different types of students. You can’t just have the AP’s for the top 10% of students. Students want to know they can take classes to succeed.” 

Were classmates competitive or supportive? 

  • “Definitely supportive of each other. Everybody wanted to help each other.” 

What are your goals for the future now that you are done with high school? 

  • “Eventually find a career that makes me happy, makes other happy, and that supports me. I am gong to major in Business.” 

What is your advice to other high schoolers? 

  • “Challenge yourself a little. Try to do more than just ‘get through’. Taking the easy way is not the best way. Slacking will not help you in the future. If you don’t try hard, then you might not get into a good college. Even if it is so hard, don’t give up. Share your experience and talents with others.” 

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