Relevance was one of the most important factors in me deciding to become a teacher. You see, I didn’t really like school. Oh, I liked seeing my friends and talking (a lot!), and playing basketball, and the such. I just didn’t like the education part that kept interrupting my social life! I felt that nothing taught was relevant to my life. I memorized, regurgitated, and forgot.
On the other hand, I have always enjoyed learning. Learning is fun and necessary and relevant. I became a teacher to prove that learning could be fun in a school setting. Granted, our school does not look like the typical school. My classroom goes against every professional meeting I sat through, telling me that children cannot learn in a “busy” room. Children learn all day in my “busy” room!
I think the point is that we take the time to show our students the relevance of what we’re teaching to their lives. I can tell when a student actually understands why he is at school. When he switches from being a kid who “comes to school” to a kid who utilizes school to get him where he wants to go, I know success is around the corner.
More than ever in history, kids are looking for relevance. They are finding it in social media. Videos on how to apply makeup correctly and beat the next level of their games are much more relevant to their lives than Spark notes over a classic book. They do not see where that book can teach them anything about their lives. But, oh, it can!
I quit reading for pleasure in 8th grade. My teachers had assigned me books to read, and I rebelled by refusing to read anymore on my own for pleasure. Now as a literature teacher, I ask my kids why I make them read. Am I pushing them to rebel just like I did? I point out who I actually hurt by discontinuing to read, and then I tell them why my decision was damaging. I follow up with the reason I want them to read: if we study the rhetoric of great writers, we can use the same techniques to write the words that will change our world. I have found my students much more likely to read after that conversation, and I enjoy hearing what they have gleaned from the books I assign.
I think, more than understanding how their studies are relevant, our kids want to be relevant. Gifted kids especially like activities to be “real.” As parents and teachers of gifted kids, it is imperative that we point out the impact our kids are making on their world. Teach them what their small donation added to every other small donation is doing for someone. Tell them how a decision they made has led you to trust them with greater responsibilities. Take the time to let your gifted teen know he matters… even more, he is a valid contributor. You will find him contributing more and more!