I just completed my Junior Achievement class. This is my fourth time teaching this same course to 8th grade students at the same school. It is a Buffalo Public school; without argument, a district facing many challenges. Being a JA instructor has taught me many things. It’s taught me that teachers, especially in inner city schools, have a very, very difficult job. Not that I didn’t know this, (I did), but now I KNOW this.
The course is titled “Economics for Success” and is a six class course covering career choices based on skills (the students struggled with this, except for sports-related skills), interests (ditto) and values (I was met with all blank stares). We (that’s an exaggeration, I) talked about the importance of education to obtain good employment and earn a living. Over the years, the majority of my students complained that they hate school because it is boring and they plan to be professional athletes. I hate to be a buzz kill but, how about a plan B, just in case?
We further discuss budgeting, using credit wisely and (gasp) insurance. My point throughout the course is having the ability (meaning, having the money) to make choices in your life, rather than just getting by.
The majority of the students were seldom quiet, which makes it difficult to teach the remaining quiet and interested ones. They seemed to have little to no control over the timing, amount and volume of their words, despite lunch detention threats.
Once through a lesson, after having gone over a handful of concepts, no student could answer a question based on that information, presented literally minutes earlier.
I couldn’t help but mutter to myself something about the world going somewhere in a handbasket. If these students cannot grasp the most basic of skills (i.e. identifying what they are good at), how in the world are they going to live their lives? It’s troubling and got me thinking about the old saying of how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I wonder if any of my students might break out of that mould and achieve a measure of success in their lives. I wonder who could serve as a viable role model for these young adults to teach them the benefits of staying in school, having a career they enjoy, and living within their means and according to their personal values (once they’ve identified them).
I come away from this latest experience with my life philosophy challenged and my normally optimistic self more than a little depressed, wondering if I’m a failure as a teacher and concerned that all the money we, as a community, are investing in public education is being wasted. I can only hope that our communal effort will pay off in surprising ways.
I most likely will try to teach this course again, when my optimism and strength return.