This article was written by Alex F., an Essex County, NJ Middle School Student.
The following article is a part of a new series, “Listening to Youth Voices in the New Year.” Each Sunday, articles written by Essex County Middle School students will be published, each week relating to a new topic. You can learn more about this series here.
School is such an important place. For me, school consumes about 40 hours of my week, and from a student’s perspective, I think the school system should change. School should be a place where we were provided more opportunities to use our unique talents in the classroom regularly. Additionally, there is a significant amount of pressure put on quizzes and tests which causes me and almost all of my peers to become regularly nervous and stressed. School should not be a place where we are compared or labeled based solely upon our academic performance, or discouraged by a marked letter on a piece of paper—it should be something more.
We as students spend most of our days in school. Across the country, students are forced to follow many similar curriculum standards that leave little room for student creativity to shine through. To improve, the U.S. school system should integrate the students’ hobbies and interests in common core classes, follow Finland’s footsteps to challenge and, most importantly, give teachers a larger paycheck. Today, schools across the country are focused on preparing students for their adult careers. However, most schools do not provide options in common core classes that allow kids to use their talent in the classroom. If schools examine the students’ interests, they will ultimately be more interested and work even harder. Even though Math, Science, Social Studies and Language Arts are very critical subjects to learn, they should not be regarded as the most important.
In order for a student to succeed in what they dream about doing, they must incorporate that into their daily lives. For example, someone who feels a specific interest in play writing, they would have the opportunity in Language Arts classes to do so. A student who shows interest in the political anatomy of the world could demonstrate this by engaging in political debates with students of different political views. Overall, this would lead them down the road to success. According to the Common Core Standards, “K–12 standards designed to prepare all students for success in college, career, and life by the time they graduate from high school.” However, in U.S. schools, students are not being prepared for the journeys that lie ahead. Rather, they are being prepared to compete with each other. Right now, in current school systems across the U.S., students are competing to get an A. One single letter is what will determine the student’s reputation, family relationships and most importantly, their future. Common Core literally has the word “common” in it, meaning the same. Are all students the same? Do all students have the same passions and dreams? No, they don’t. Any parent, teacher or guardian would say the same in a heartbeat. There are education systems, such as in Finland, that really use the students’ values to their advantage. Instead of preparing kids to be the smartest, as in the U.S. school system, Finland school teacher Kari Louhivuori explains, “This is what we do every day, prepare kids for life.” In Finland, the school days are shorter, no homework is given and yet their system still manages to top every other school system around the world. The reason for this is because students are given more freedom. They are given more independence with lenient boundaries that simulate the freedom that is given as an adult.
According to LynNell Hancock of Smithsonian Magazine, in Finland, there are 62,000 employers from 3,500 schools that work together to solve problems in the curriculum, which improves the school experience. Each teacher is the best of the best, with a required Master’s Degree in education and handpicked from the top 10 percent of Finland’s graduates. Students are also stripped of the mandated standardized testing and are only given one exam at the end of high school. Furthermore, students are not compared to other students, schools or regions, which provides much more confidence than being graded on performance. As proven, Finland takes risky steps in education, yet Finland’s schools exceed the U.S.’s high school graduate rate by 17.5%. On top of that, 66% of Finnish students go on to higher education, which is the highest rate in the European Union. If U.S schools take notes on Finland’s schools, students will see much more improvement and most importantly, see hope. The fact that America’s population is much more diverse than Finland’s should only make this model more successful, because more varied viewpoints, life experiences and dreams will be represented in the classrooms.
Even though teachers have such an important job, their paycheck doesn’t reflect the same. Yes, teachers make a decent amount of money, but decent is not enough, given that educators are people who teach kids how to make a difference. If they are teaching students that will eventually make up the future, then why they aren’t being treated that way? Presented by Payscale Research, the average salary of a public school teacher in the U.S. is approximately $45,000, while physicians make more than double that. A doctor can save someone's life and make a difference, however, a teacher can make the same difference by directing their students to form a better future for our country or even world. As viewed in the article “Here Are the Most and Least Paid Teachers in the World" from The Huffington Post, in Luxembourg, long term teachers are paid around $120,000, which is a reasonable amount that teachers, an enormously important job, should be paid.
The school system should make a substantial change. U.S. schools should fix issues and integrate students’ interests and passions in more classes, model Finland and sculpt around a student’s mindset. When I walk through the doors of school everyday, I’m fully aware that I will be entering a classroom that is warped around a structured educational system, in which a circled letter, inked in pen, summarizes a person’s mental capability, interests and beliefs. Instead, I believe that every student should have an opportunity to explore subjects outside of the standard classes. Every student has dreams and the school system should be the key to unlock them.