Are your students renters or owners?


Teaching | Monday, October 21, 2013

Are your students renters or owners?

Students: renters or owners?

Are your students renters or owners? Are they paying rent and biding time, or are they adding lasting value to their own educations? (Flickr /

I have all-star renters.

My wife and I own a rental home just down the street from our house. Our tenants are a family of five: a couple with three kids.

They don’t smoke. They don’t party. They don’t have pets.

They pay their rent and they tell us they’re happy to live in our house.

They are, basically, the landlord’s dream.

However, there’s the funniest thing about them: they don’t do anything to renovate our house.

No new paint. No new carpet. No windows or doors or bathroom fixtures. They just live in the house and pay the rent.

Funny? OK, not really. They’re rental home tenants, and like all rental home tenants, they don’t do improvements to our rental home. That’s just the way renters are.

My renters are exactly like my students.

Here’s why:

Students don’t want to take control of their own education until they own it.

This was one of the greatest insights I took away from this weekend’s Indiana Foreign Language Teachers Conference, where I was privileged to present and participate. The keynote speaker, John de Mado, made the renter connection with foreign language students’ desire to become proficient in their language of study.

[RELATED: Motivating our students]

It’s like that with all students, though, isn’t it? They’re either renters or owners.

The renters are in our classes because they have to be there. They don’t see the connection between what we’re selling — our content — and their own lives. They earn their grades because their parents say they must — or they don’t earn their grades at all.

Renter students are just paying rent until something better comes along.

The owners, though, are caretakers of their own educations. Their notetaking is like meticulously installing new trim on their walls. Their thoughtful questions are like adding fresh paint to their living room walls.

They know it’s theirs. They own it.

They want to add value to it because they want to live in it — or make a nice profit with it one day.

How do we get the owners to sign the deed and own their own education?

That’s the million-dollar question. For me, here’s the answer:

In my classes, my students have to see the relationship between what they’re learning and where they want to be one day. The relationship between what they’re learning and some goal they have.

For me, in foreign language, there are lots of those relationships. College. Travel. Job marketability. Connecting to a world of people they couldn’t otherwise.

Sometimes the goal my class fulfills is just fun. They want to have fun at school, and when we are talking in the language about a topic that they like or are telling a story that makes them laugh, they fulfill their goal.

I see “fun” as an intermediate goal. My hope is if they stay interested in that goal long enough, they’ll see the bigger ones eventually.

And when they do see those big goals, they’ll add ceiling fans and flower beds and hardwood floors to their own learning.

They’ll own it. Live it.

And they won’t want to move out.

Do you see students’ relationship with learning like renting and owning? How do you make that connection between learning and their goals? Leave your thoughts in a comment!

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