When I was student teaching, my mentor teacher insisted that I stand outside the door before each class and shake each student’s hand and greet them by name. Towering over the line of hesitant ten year olds, I received mostly floppy handshakes and no response to my greeting for the first few weeks. Soon, though, I realized the power of the handshake. The handshake allowed students to know that I noticed them and that their presence in class mattered to me. Over time, this simple act leveled the playing field just a tad when it comes to cultural differences and engagement. Though each student enters my class with different needs and backgrounds, everyone felt like an important part of our class. However, leveling the playing field does not stop at the door. Teachers should be aware of their class’s individual needs and interests when planning curriculum as well.

In today’s education system, many students feel ostracized by the “one size fits all” philosophy of corporate-created curriculum and therefore further disengage from learning. An article in EdWeek found that kids want to feel like they matter and that students who don’t perceive themselves as represented in the classroom may end up dropping out of school. Providing students with meaningful activities and assignments that relate to their lives and allow students to see themselves ethnically, socially, or through universal themes can help students pay attention and engage on a much deeper level. Students may not particularly care for Transcendentalist literature, for example, but as soon as a teacher shows them the reading analysis skills to uncover how many of these writers were demanding social change and a new way of thinking, students perk up and relate work from the 1800s to their own lives.

Many people enter education because they feel like teaching is an art: a profession where they use creativity to guide students through the most enriching learning experiences possible. Different district mandates often make it easier and faster for teachers to just dust off a trusty curriculum textbook and call it good for lesson planning that week. Though all teachers have “go-to” activities, texts, and units they have lovingly crafted and use each year, the best teachers strive to re-assess and add to their teacher-created curriculum or use bits and pieces of “canned-curriculum” in order to ensure the content and execution represent the unique class make-up each year.

Parents and teachers alike care for students and want them to earn a high school diploma with the skills and attitudes necessary to be successful members of society. By using authentic, teacher-created curriculum, students will be more apt to feel engaged and “heard”, allowing them to gain the confidence to take charge of their own learning in the classroom and throughout their future.