When will I ever use this?

For most of my career, I have worked to have an answer for this question.  Since 1997, I have taught a number of different classes: English, Chemistry, World History (the one that covers a long time ago), US/VA History, Algebra, Geometry, Resource class, Writing classes, Technology classes, and a few I’ve probably missed.



Every class is almost always the same – students come in, excited.  Ready to learn.



Then the days start to drag.  The weeks start to drag.  The work becomes more and more.


The students start to ask questions.

“Why is this important?”

“Why do I even have to know this?”

And the inevitable:

“When will I ever use this?”


That’s the question that is so important to everyone – when will I ever use this?

In the past few years, the cry for rigor, relevance and relationships has arisen.  These are the new 3 Rs of education (if you didn’t know, the old three Rs = Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic (which if you ask me might still be pretty darn important)).  Rigor means that we should make the curriculum challenging so that students stay engaged.  Relationships: know your students.  Create relationships so that students know that we care.  And relevance – we must make connections to the students’ lives so that they understand why we are learning what we are learning.

I think rigor is important – mostly differentiated rigor; that’s for a later post.  Relationships are essential – although I think what constitutes a relationship is not necessarily always agreed upon.  But relevance.  That is something on which we can all climb aboard.

Do you know what the death knell of Shakespeare is?  This statement, “Well, because it’s part of the curriculum and so we have to learn it.”

Seriously?  That is your best at creating relevance for Shakespeare?  Of all the moments that could create a desire to learn in a student, this was the best shot?

Maybe there are other reasons, like:

  1. Shakespeare offers an opportunity for you to increase your vocabulary, and since we were just discussing your goal of attending college, we should focus on creating a college level vocabulary for you.
  2. When you write that college essay, think about how much more powerful it would be if you included something that dealt with Shakespeare to show how you can make connections between the present or the past

Or for the child who doesn’t have college aspirations:

  1. Almost everyone you know passes through high school, right?  Didn’t you say that you want to own an auto body shop some day?  Imagine one day, a businessperson comes in  with her daughter, and in the daughter’s hand is a copy of Othello.  While the mom is rifling through her purse to find her credit card, you state something about the story to the young lady.  Don’t you think that businessperson is going to think about how you’re not the typical auto body worker?  Maybe that, if you think deeply about something like Shakespeare, you will think really hard while working on her car?

And for the undecided child – not sure if it will be college, or the military, or the workforce:

  1. Shakespeare is tough.  It really is tough literature to read.  But as you get older, don’t you think you are going to read difficult text?  When we study Shakespeare, we have an opportunity to figure out and build the skills around reading difficult text.  That is one of the best reasons to read Shakespeare: to build the skill of reading something difficult so that, when you are looking for that promotion, or that next degree, you can rely on your skills to figure out any text anyone throws at you.

And if all else fails:

  1. People have always read Shakespeare.  Don’t you want to be the parent who, when your child comes to you to ask for help, you can help her?  Instead of ironically saying – “Yeah, I learned that in high school, but when are you ever going to use it?”

As the Response to Intervention specialist, I am often called upon to work with students who have low, or no motivation.  For many of these students, relevance is the only thing that is going to create that motivation.  Conversations that help students understand how, in the future, they will access either the information or the skills will only motivate them to connect with the curriculum.  Why not have some answers that make kids go:



OH! That’s when I’ll use it.


7 thoughts on “When will I ever use this?

  1. I really like this and it makes me think of two things.

    First, when I used to teach at UVA. My first semesters I got awful teaching evaluations. Awful like “The Dean needs to send Dr. Walker to a remedial course on teaching and if that doesn’t take he should be fired.” That was coupled with the statement: “This is a really important course, so its too bad it wasn’t taught better.” One of my mentors pointed out that I must have taught them the important part, that the course mattered. That was a real bright point in an otherwise dark experience.

    Second, when I was a student I saw a lot of work as training. I didn’t know what for, but as athletes train for competition I was training for some future competition. As an entrepreneur and inventor I find that my training was never wasted. I need everything I ever learned and a good bit more.

    Nice Post!

    • Hey Bill, thanks! (not just for the comment, but that you’re reading the blog)
      I like how you state that – training. When my wife and I talk to our own children about school, many of our conversations with them are about preparing for the expectations of high school – training. I met with a student just the other day – very bright young man – not motivated – sees no point, but he also wants to go to college. I tried to impress upon him that school does two things: fills you up with information that you may use one day, and gives you the skills necessary so that when you get to the stuff that you will use one day, you’ll be ready.
      Thanks again.

      • Muggsie,

        Why does he want to go to college? To me that question opens a huge and meaningful conversation. Just to make more money? That’s one motivation, but I bet there is more than that. I’d love to have that conversation…

      • It’s funny that you ask that Bill. I think there are a lot of kids who are “Going go college” because that is what is expected, with little understanding or reason why.

  2. Re Shakespeare – he’s also filled with interpersonal relationships, difficult decisions, political intrigue, and really good duels (including really awesome argument in Taming of the Shrew). Not to mention the fact that half the movies out there today are just remakes of Shakespeare…..

    • Hey Alison, thank you for your comment.
      I may be one of the few, but, in short, I think Shakespeare is pretty awesome – period. It is so true that, when you just allow yourself to get past the complex language, there is so much to gain. And, we didn’t even go into recent studies that show the effect of, and importance of, interacting with complex characters in literature and how they influence our ability to improve interpersonal communication. ( and )
      Thanks again for reading!

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