World Teachers' Day: The Best Teachers Are the Teachers Who Let Go
What was true for me as a teenager in Missouri, I know also to be true for high school students in China: The best teachers are the teachers who let go. Through the Student Journalism in China program, students have developed the critical thinking they need to become active, engaged citizens, and behind these students are confident teachers.
Recently, dozens of high school students in Gansu Province in China told me about the important issues they addressed in their most recent edition of the school newspaper. With pride, they told me that they are able to push boundaries and report on sensitive issues such as teen smoking, pollution in their cities, and dangers of road construction in their school newspapers.
Teachers in Gansu and elsewhere should feel proud of their role in allowing their students to think and act creatively. These teachers have the courage to let students make their own decisions about the newspaper—about the content of editorials, the types of stories they write, the issues they address. They remind me that teachers often teach best when they provide their students with real-world opportunities, with problems to solve, and then step out of the way.
When I was in high school, I worked on the school yearbook. My classmates and I debated which sections would go where, which issues to cover, how to present the school. My teacher would observe and let us come to decisions on our own. Though it was difficult at the time, I now see it gave me confidence in my ability to solve problems, my ability to analyze situations, and my ability to resolve disagreements with my peers.
In China, the student-driven newspaper is rare. It is a unique teacher who decides he will exhibit the kind of confidence in his students’ abilities that they should one day exhibit in themselves. That’s why I was so inspired to connect with 44 teachers in 13 high schools in Gansu Province, who showed me that a tradition of teaching problem-solving is springing up in these schools.
After two years of the Student Journalism in China program, in a survey of student journalists participating in the program, nearly 70 percent of respondents—all new student journalists—said that they lead content decisions for the newspaper. The vast majority, 87 percent, agree or strongly agree that teachers let them make their own decisions. That allowance to succeed and to fail is more valuable than any lesson that can be scratched out on the chalkboard or read in a book. Over 700 student journalists have been trained in international standard journalism and 43 issues of newspapers have been published since the beginning of the program.
Thanks to unique teachers willing to try something new, these students will continue to share important information with their classmates and grow into the leaders their communities need.