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My View: Teachers must create more critical thinkers

By Sara Hilligas

There are times throughout history that force us as citizens to decide what we believe and what we stand for. In these moments it is difficult for us to determine how to act or what to do. Do we stand by as innocent observers and continue to do the best we can in our own corner of the world? Do we stand up and protest and get our voices heard? Or do we stand down and hope that the world rights itself without our voice?

The realm of social media has made it much easier for the voiceless to find a voice. Our news feeds, which were once filled with snapshots of babies, engagements and the latest dinner creation, have recently taken on a much more serious tone. Activism has taken some to the streets, organizing protests and marches. Others still do not know where or how to best spread their message and make a positive change in the world.

It is in these moments of uncertainty that I am grateful for my chosen occupation. I am an assistant principal at a high school in Buffalo. I taught English for nine years before moving into administration. Working with teenagers has been a true gift in my life. Not only because they bring an energy and enthusiasm to my day-to-day life, but because they have allowed me the opportunity to directly affect the future. In a time when I am unsure of how to impact the world around me, I look at my chosen career with deep gratitude.

Regardless of subject area or grade level, I have always believed that the ultimate goal of education is to prepare our students to become critical thinkers and active, engaged citizens. That is why we teach reading, writing and math. It is why we engage in discussions about history and science. It is the purpose behind the arts and foreign languages. The more diverse the content we can deliver to students, the more thoughtful they will become.

Becoming a teacher is not the popular choice it once was. But I would suggest that today it is more crucial than ever that we recruit and retain talented individuals who can make the ultimate contribution to our society – teaching the next generation.

This profession needs individuals who have the adeptness to create critical thinkers. This is a daunting task. Teachers cannot simply tell students what or how to think. Rather, they must instill in them an innate curiosity. They must offer all sides of an argument and provide students the skills to decipher information, make judgments and analyze facts.

Teachers need to create articulate writers who are able to clearly explain their point of view and offer compelling arguments. Teachers need to find ways to spark curiosity, using inquiry to enable students to make discoveries, question hypotheses and create.

Math is no longer just about numbers. Students are asked to reason, make sense of problems and persevere through difficult tasks. Teachers are focused on teaching skills through content, because if our students have the right skills, they can become the critical thinkers our world needs.

Now more than ever it is vital that our profession attracts those who have the talent, perseverance and ingenuity to take on this great task. As educators, we need to focus on exploiting the positive in our profession; elevating our own voices so that others know the real work that goes on in a classroom.

We need to work on delivering high-quality professional development that meets the needs of teachers and students. We need to push our teachers to improve. We need to provide opportunities for professional growth so that when we do attract talented individuals, we have career pathways for them. It is vital that our government continue to support and provide leadership to ensure all children receive the education they deserve.

Sara Hilligas, who lives in Buffalo, is an assistant principal at Tapestry Charter High School.
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