Author: Sterling Hill

Author: Sterling Hill

In the midst of stark division in this country, we will begin another school year in August with the most malleable of all citizens sitting right in front of us. I shift between great excitement about education’s potential- innovative school design, personalized learning; and fear and anger- college readiness rates in the 30s, low student engagement.

Being an educator is a precariously humbling position to be in. Our careers rest in the hands of undeveloped brains and overstimulated hormones. Nevertheless, I am convinced that all students are created with immense value and that education gives these children opportunities to reach their potential.

I begin the school year with a basic question- How can we best serve our students THIS school year?

More than anything, our classrooms need a dose of humility. The lack of humility in our classrooms and in our education system as a whole is pervasive. We see this in stagnant teaching methods, in student’s lack of respect for authority, and in authoritarian decision making in the classroom. Andy Smarick of the American Enterprise Institute “Dignity Project,” asks our question like this- How do we approach public education so a “deep respect for human dignity is our default setting?” In other words, how can we build a culture of respect and humility in our classrooms?

Humility is about respecting others because they might be right and you might be wrong. Teach For America defines this idea as “asset-based thinking.” Let us look at a student’s assets before we ever consider their deficits. Assume they are kind. Assume they desire to learn. Assume their intentions are positive. The most powerful moments I have had as a teacher have come when, in front of the class, I have admitted I am wrong.  Teacher vulnerability breeds student vulnerability which breeds trust which breeds engagement.

Social media, parents, and past experiences all alter how students think and how students respond to teaching. This year, consider that what has worked in the past may not work with students in 2017. It will take humility and self-reflection to consider the individual needs of our students. A recent study completed by the Fordham Institute and Crux Research stated that students are likely to fit into one of six categories- hand raisers, social butterflies, deep thinkers, subject lovers, emotionals, and teacher responders. Over 90% of students surveyed stated that they desired to learn and to be engaged in the classroom. I implore you to consider your students when planning this year. Ask students how you could be a better teacher. Ask more questions in the classroom. This indicates to your students that you don’t have all the answers and that you trust them to take responsibility for their learning.

How we educate our children is foundational to their understanding of the world and their place in it.  Education drives culture. So cheers to 2017-2018! It’s a new year-- ripe for a humble start.

Sterling Hill
Teacher | Department Chair
Highland Park High School