Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Helping My Students See their Potential

September 08, 2014

When I teach, I try not to see the students sitting in front of me at the age of 15, but rather do my very best to picture them as the adults they are destined to become. I try to see more in my students than they can see in themselves. I came from a non-traditional family, living at times without running water or electricity. The potential my teachers saw in me far exceeded the potential I saw in myself. I was changed by a series of caring teachers who challenged me to do more than I believed I could do on my own.

As I try to push my students to see their future selves, I know the work I am preparing them to do is nothing like my world when I was 15. When I was in school, learning history meant if you didn’t memorize the dates of World War II, the only way to find out was to ask another smart person like your teacher or to locate a book with the answer. Today, students can find information instantaneously using smart phones, so memorization of facts is not enough. My classroom today doesn’t look the same as the history classes I attended as a student, because the world I knew just 20 years ago does not look the same.

My proudest moment as a teacher came in the form of a letter of recommendation given to me by a former student. In the letter she wrote, “Mrs. Manker taught me not to shrink in fear of derogatory marks or unkind eyes because prejudice is the result of an unfortunate lack of global understanding. [Her] lesson about how ignorance cultivates bigotry helped unshackle the chains of racism that bound me, so that I could free my mind…those that think otherwise should take AP World History with Mrs. Manker.”

These are the deep critical thinking lessons I teach using the goals set forth in the Common Core State Standards. Our students deserve classrooms that empower, motivate, and encourage thought. Common Core creates a pathway to ensure more of our students are given authentic learning opportunities reflective of the complex, technical, and global world they are being asked to enter as adults.

I had brilliant teachers envision my future when I couldn’t see it myself. My students trust me to do the same for them. These classroom transitions are not easy for me as a teacher or for my students. It is easier to simply memorize the characteristics of civilization and reproduce them on a graphic organizer, an activity I conducted at the beginning of my teaching career, instead of analyzing the very premise of civilization as a historical concept using multiple primary source documents as we do today.

Questioning basic historical assumptions is difficult, and I am careful to teach my students and their parents the purpose of the work we do. I encourage my students and parents to reach out if they find themselves struggling to bridge gaps in knowledge as standards rise. My classroom reflects the complex realities of the world our students enter upon graduation. All of our students must learn to read, analyze, and sort information much more critically because while smart phones will give you a list of factual details, phones will not tell you as a human how to make sense of the information found.

The richness of the global interaction in the world today can only be reflected in a classroom that allows time for students to dialogue, to examine, to question, and to embrace their world. 

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