After 25 years in the business of talent acquisition and talent optimization I have heard a lot of negative feedback from hiring leaders regarding what’s NOT being taught in the classrooms. “New grads may have the book smarts, but they expect a trophy for just showing up to work.” states one Senior Vice President of Sales.

This sentiment is relatively consistent. After surveying more than 625 hiring leaders, 72% indicated that new grads lacked the basic people skills or personal motivation to do the job they were hired to do!

So why does this problem exist? Many hiring leaders call it laziness. Some blame it on Millennials as a generation. Some blame our school systems. I want to better understand what our educators thought – so I went to the source.

Following is a letter I received directly from a high school teacher who has experienced the challenges in our schools first had. The identity of this individual will remain confidential so as not to jeopardize their career, however their perspective is quite eye opening.

From a teacher’s perspective

“The modern education system is America’s biggest embarrassment to date.”

It is a widely-accepted fact that today’s American schools are not equipping students with the skills necessary to succeed in the workforce, in their financial lives, or in their personal lives. While students in Asia and Europe continue to progress with both communication skills and STEM subjects, American students fall further and further behind. In fact, I recently walked into my local Barnes and Noble store to search for books about education, only to find that the shelves were filled with authors speculating why the schools have failed our children.

As an avid reader and licensed teacher, I have found that most of today’s research and literature focuses on the same few topics. STEM funding, technology integration, and parent involvement have made the headlines and manuals across the board. While these issues are certainly worth investigating, there is one topic that nobody seems to be talking about: low expectations.

When I refer to low expectations, I am not simply referring to teachers and administrators; I’m referring to the children themselves. Throughout my experience in the public school system, I learned that mainstream students will rise to the expectations you set for them. In other words, if you set the bar low, they will reach that standard. While working at my local high school, I became familiar with the “no zero” policy. According to this policy, students who do not turn in their work should not be given a zero because their brains haven’t fully developed yet. Let me emphasize the fact that this applies to mainstream students, not just special education students.

When I learned about this policy, to say I was shocked would be an understatement. “So we are rewarding bad behavior?” I asked my colleague. “Basically,” she said. Apparently, the school system feels that they aren’t developed enough to turn in their work at seventeen years old, but they are developed enough to be called “adults” and die for our country at eighteen years old. Around the same time that I asked this question, I was preemptively reminded not to call on students to read aloud in class because it would “embarrass” them.

To make matters worse, while I was completing my education degree, I was assigned to an urban high school that was traditionally considered underperforming. While I did not expect to see highly advanced classes, I could not have been prepared for the level at which these students were learning. In eleventh grade, students were claiming that they did not understand how to use commas and were not prepared for the standardized test because of this fact. They also struggled to spell words such as “transportation” and “automobile.”

While I hid my utter disbelief for the sake of professionalism, I couldn’t help but notice that these particular students did not have identifiable learning disabilities. Rather, the school system had failed to expect that they understand commas, reading aloud, or basic writing skills. They had set the bar low, and the students reached that level.

As a teacher, I have attempted to take a different approach with my students. Rather than coddling them as they work their way through books that should be read in elementary school, I inform them that they are much brighter than they have been told thus far. I push them much harder, but I encourage them each step of the way. Whether they fall short or succeed at each task, I remind them that they have the potential to be better. In fact, believing that students can’t achieve great things because of their urban setting is a form of prejudice that has crept its way into our schools.

Regardless of how much funding the government provides, how trained the teachers might be, or how adequate students’ textbooks are, educators must stand behind their students rather than hindering them. This is how we prepare students for an unforgiving workforce and stiff competition.

After all, who will hold their hand when they move beyond the classroom?


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