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Get a job, sir.

John Spencer recently put a question out on Facebook and then wrote a post, Why Aren’t Schools Teaching This?, about his love of copywriting, and how useful and authentic it is to teach students about clear writing.

Why aren’t schools teaching a lot of things?

Well, perhaps for one glaringly obvious reason is subjecting teachers to the PD that relates only to instruction, and not careers or avocations. We grow out of touch with what the ‘real world’ looks like. John was surprised that one of my past incarnations was one of a copywriter. Yup, that gig, and a few other things:

  • Babysitter (start the timeline of work at age 9)
  • Busgirl at a Chinese-Mongolian barbecue
  • Pizza maker
  • Babysitter again.
  • Retail–department store x2 summers
  • Men’s haberdashery salesgirl and suit measurement taker-er
  • Housecleaner
  • Waitress (excelled)
  • Waitress again (fired for not cleaning salad area properly)
  • Pizza DELIVERY girl (eek)
  • Credit card company customer service phone representative
  • Secretary (not good)
  • Sales/marketing
  • Sales/copywriting
  • Secretary again (not good at all)
  • Back to the sales/copywriting company (happy)
  • Mom
  • Baby room painter
  • Jewelry maker
  • Back to retail…
  • Retail again…
  • Starbucks
  • Teacher (started around 41…)

Going for full disclosure here: we have sheltered/coddled/protected/promoted/encouraged/supported (choose your parenting judgment choice or style) our sons regarding working. We have never expected them to work a part-time job, and for myself, I am conflicted about that to some degree. (But I’m always conflicted about every decision I make, to be candid.) My husband and I both worked at early ages, learning responsibility, those  soft skills everyone’s infatuated with these days, and encountered so many characters and kinds of bosses, leaders, supervisors, it’s enough to write a Dickens’ novel. When the focus is solely on school, the result may be more academia, and less hope for life after school. If the job of school is to help kids get jobs, it’s never really done that. The dubious HuffingtonPost posted an article, Seven Things They Should Teach in School, and I argue three of them are outdated.

Except for how to split up a check at a restaurant...
Except for how to split up a check at a restaurant…

Did at any point in time during school did someone teach me how to do my taxes? No, of course not. But yet somehow between knowing good CPAs, and TurboTax, I can ‘adult’ this just fine. What school may have helped me with is knowing why it’s important to pay taxes, what my civic duties are, and how taxes support our nation’s defense, education, and other infrastructure considerations. (AND why I caucus/vote!) Did school teach me how to clear a table, be courteous to customers, and work fast? No, but my mom sure did. Did school teach me how to write copy for pharmaceutical marketing/trade show copy? Nope. Not that either. It taught me grammar, spelling, and organization. Heck, back in THOSE days this concept of audience and voice was not introduced. Sentence diagramming, though, I rocked at that.

I actually like are vegetables disgusting The.

I strayed from point: back to teachers, PD, and not making ‘real world’ connections. How about instead of learning new instructional strategies, we teachers have professionals lead our professional development? Folks who are in the ‘other’ working world come and provide seminars and how-to’s with hands-on learning about skills and crafts in their fields? We did some of that already at our school, a career day for students, and I learned so much from the woman who spoke, hosted in my classroom. Not sure the students got it, but it put me back to the year my dad came and spoke to me and my classmates in second grade. Recently the University of Washington medical school came to my middle school–but wow what a cool day that would have been for teachers, too!

We all know teaching provides multiple transferable skills, and how important it is for students to have mentors and know what the next steps might be. I guess my concluding notion is that schools should not try to cover every possible knowledge hole, that the act of thinking critically, being good decision makers, growing with integrity and grace are more than enough. And if you can add a few ‘real world’ strategies in the mix, it’s not more, it’s awesome.

Here are some things I’ve tried in the past:

  • “Ad agency” – from my copywriting days I created a lesson where students worked in small ‘ad agencies’ to create a dog food ad based on either logos, pathos, or ethos. Grand fun. (This was pre-Mad Men days, so no scotch and cigarrettes, thank you very much.)
  • Amendments in Action: mentioned in another post — find real world examples of our Amendments in action, being enjoyed, supported or challenged:
"I got arrested in 2009 for protesting army recruitment. Then I got arrested in 2011 for protesting foreclosures after Hurricane Sandy. And I'm about to get arrested again, because on May 14th we're going to Albany to protest fossil fuels." -
“I got arrested in 2009 for protesting army recruitment. Then I got arrested in 2011 for protesting foreclosures after Hurricane Sandy. And I’m about to get arrested again, because on May 14th we’re going to Albany to protest fossil fuels.” -Humans of New York
  • Field Journals: simple as this: make a field journal, walk outside to the gravel, field, etc. and draw sketches and label what you see or question.
  • Interviews: the best ones came from the year I had students interview a family member.
  • Movie making: documentaries and journalism
  • Yellow Fever unit: how do humans deal with an epidemic depending on culture, technology (medical/scientific knowledge) of its time?

I have more, but I believe we all do. If you begin to look through your instructional practices through the notion of ‘real world-ism’ we can all find the triple-threat of pragmatism, engagement, and creativity.

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