On the joys of a new school year
The start of a new school year! I love it! I love the excitement, the nervousness, the feeling of “newness” as teachers and students enter the building wondering what awaits them.
This is my twenty-fifth year as an educator, but in reality I have always been involved in education—as far back as I can remember I wanted to learn. As a three year old I desperately wanted to go to school, just like my brothers. I would walk around the house with a folded chessboard holding a piece of paper, pretending to be a student. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t like school.
For me school was pretty easy, because I was studious and hardworking. Okay, I will admit it: I was one of those students who would write five paragraphs when the teacher asked for a sentence. But I digress.
The real reason I am writing this particular blog relates to what it is like to enter a new school as a freshman.
Compared to my freshman year in the late Seventies, what students experience has changed drastically. For example, the volume of material covered in an introductory biology class has exploded. When I entered high school, molecular biology wasn’t even a field of study. Now the structure of DNA and how we can use restriction enzymes to cut the DNA are part of the content our 9th grade students explore.
Students are exposed to more abstract concepts at an earlier age, because if they aren’t exposed, they’ll have great difficulty with other topics they encounter farther along their educational path.
Another key difference is the use of calculators. We were not allowed to use calculators until our junior year of high school. But now, students are expected to have graphing calculators as early as 7th grade. (Does anyone remember the Texas Instrument calculators from the 70’s and 80’s? Mine cost about the same as the graphing calculators of today with considerably fewer capabilities!) With the use of these calculators, the math present-day students tackle is very different as well.
And once again, students are learning more complex and abstract concepts than I did at the same age.
Our students also face significantly different social challenges. To connect with my friends, I needed to pick up the telephone and call. If my brothers or parents were on the phone, I had to wait. It was also likely that one of my parents was within five or 10 feet of the telephone and could hear my half of the conversation. If I whispered, they would notice and listen more closely. Laptops? Cell phones? Texting? Tweeting? Never in a million years would I have imagined the technology that exists and is accessible to students in 2013.
While the life of a 9th grader is vastly different than what I experienced 36 years ago (oh my!!!), some things haven’t changed at all. The energy and excitement of learning is still palpable. The beauty of the periodic table, or Shakespeare, is as exciting to me as an educator as it was so long ago, when I was a student.
What and how we learn may have changed, but the connections we make with our students remains the most valuable and most important part of the life of a teacher.
–by Catherine Renaud, Head of Upper School