Self-Reliance in Education

By Ian DeHaven

Why you should take the reins.

“This teacher hasn’t taught me anything. I haven’t learned anything in this class.”

At James River, sayings like this have become common recently. Perhaps hearing these classic lines is dependent on who you listen to or who you hang out with. But is this the right attitude to have? Never hearing such a large volume of complaints previously, we at JR Knightly News decided to explore the problem of “teachers not teaching.”

In the time we have had as students in Botetourt, most people have had few academic problems with teachers.  Most of us have been fortunate to progress steadily through all grades thus far, and even more fortunate to have people willing to help us. If you were struggling with mathematics? Chat with the teacher between classes. Needed a project extension? Explain your situation, and humbly request more time. We worked hard in all of our classes, but when the dots didn’t connect, we sought help.

Yet not everybody has experienced the scenario above.

In a recent poll on the JR Knightly News Twitter account, students were asked whether school had adequately prepared them for life afterwards. Votes were overwhelmingly for “no,” a whopping 89 percent of 97 votes, reflecting growing county concern that school is too much test prep and not enough for prep life after said test.

Maybe it’s just a sign of our post No Child Left Behind era, but student-teacher interaction has changed.  As a result of the implementation of standardized testing in conjunction with the growth of the internet, teachers who teach to the test have become one resource in a sea of many. The expectation of how students and teachers must act on both sides to ensure education — the “social contract” between them — has morphed similarly with the times.

One teacher suggested that on some level, “I haven’t learned anything in this class,” simply means “I haven’t taken steps to be fully engaged.” Another insisted that before learning can take place, the teacher must form a mentor relationship so that kids are excited to learn. From that foundation of trust, students know they are getting accurate information and being led reliably by any guiding questions or instructional exercises. A third teacher emphasized the importance of self-reliance in the classroom: “Anywhere you go after here, you will need to be self sufficient. School, job, whatever.”

On the other side of the desk, students asked for comment talked about lessons copied directly from textbooks. Others remarked about teachers that crammed content right before the SOL test, or neglected completely to introduce concepts (perhaps because said concepts are not included on the tests). As far as the social contract goes, many students echoed feelings that teachers should introduce material and explain it adequately, while a student must have the ambition to pursue the topic and be willing to ask questions or find resources needed to understand it.

So what are we as students to do? Clearly, we can no longer passively wait for teachers to spoon feed us knowledge, as evidenced by what should be our desire to learn as well as teacher sentiment. If we want to be “prepared for life,” the biggest favor we can do ourselves is by taking charge in our education, and ultimately over ourselves.

One student confided that only through hours of tutoring did they pass their Pre-Calculus exam with a C. A different student grappled for hours with Chemistry, and could only make sense of it by spending double the length of class time studying. Another student told about a teacher who failed them on their final, but eased up and allowed a chance for resubmission when the student conferred with them privately. These are only three examples of the various ways we students have to make our own path through school and life. Sometimes, only we can solve our problems.

The truth of it is, in a few short years, all of the students reading this article will be graduated out of highschool. Once you leave these halls and enter the real world, nobody will care about your future with same immediacy or spirit as the people in high school. The safest investment we can make is learning how we learn, teaching ourselves how to teach ourselves, and meeting problems head-on, teacher-to-student or person-to-person. If we have to push the teacher and ourselves to really make class or a situation “come to life,” then that is what it takes to get what we need. We take the reins.

When we have given up our problem-solving tools and courses of action, we have given up on a large (and perhaps accidental) lesson from our time at James River: the self-sufficiency required to make things work for us.