The Secret Thoughts of a Geography Teacher

Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, Japan

Every year I spend much of my time revising and preparing standards for my Geography classroom. The standards always go something like this:

Locate countries in East Asia.

Describe how religion affects life in the Middle East.

Identify different aspects of culture.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

All of these standards are important and I am really glad I created them because they give me direction and enable me to accurately assess my students.


Do you want to know a secret?

What do I really want my students to know? I mean really want them to know. What are the goals that I don’t speak about to administrators or parents? The ones I can’t assess objectively or put on a test.

My number one hope is that students come out of my classroom with a base line of knowledge about the world. I don’t expect them to be experts about every place in the world, but I want them to see the news and understand some of the dynamics around each event. I want them to hear a story about a person from another country and understand the person’s actions a little better because they understand something about the culture. I don’t want them to be ignorant or completely unaware that people live differently around the world.

Baskin-Robbins in Ukraine

Baskin-Robbins in Ukraine

My second goal and maybe a bigger hope than the first is to encourage students to see the world. Really see the world. This means to travel, but also to see the world around them with new eyes and to appreciate and explore local culture as well as dream of international travel. When I travel I take pictures of things that I know students would want to see. I want to inspire curiosity and an understanding that the world is bigger than their hometown. I also bring back local currency not because I want to collect it, but because I want my students to have a treasure from abroad.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Lastly, I want to develop empathy. It is very easy to see a person’s story in another part of the world and believe they have nothing in common with you. Love, family, and childhood are examples of cultural universals that tie people together no matter where you were born. Instead of students always identifying people in other parts of the world as different, I want my students to notice what they have in common. The more I travel and meet people from around the world, the more I realize that people are more similar than different.

How do you assess that you might ask? How do you assess appreciation, respect, empathy, curiosity, and awareness?

Perhaps, you can’t, but the truth is that these ideas are more valuable to my students than any standard I can create. Even if the information never shows up on a test, you can still try to teach what you hope and dream for your students. In fact, those might be the greatest lessons of all.



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