It has been almost 30 years since I attended the Teaching and Curriculum Program at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Most of what I learned has long been forgotten, as the realities of teaching and writing lessons taught new, equally important lessons. But one of the lessons I learned has stuck with me: to meet students where they are.
All Over the Map
I quickly realized that the students in the inner-city public high school where I completed my teaching practicum came from a vastly different background than I did.
The students were all over the map, literally and figuratively. Some were recent immigrants from Asia and Latin America, while others had lived in the same inner-city neighborhood all their lives. It would not be easy to meet them where they are.
Few of these students were college bound. Some spoke English haltingly. I was charged with teaching them civic and American history. But I wondered whether any of what the book taught was really important to them. And so I began the difficult process of figuring out how to meet the requirements of the curriculum while also meeting the needs of my students—meeting them where they were.
The Yin and Yang of Content Development
I have since come to view these two priorities—to meet students where they are and engage them in what they are learning and to make sure they have the requisite knowledge and skills in the content area—are the yin and yang of educational content. Finding the right balance is the key to a high-quality educational experience.