Top 5 Myths about the “Real World”


Top 5 Myths about the “Real World” by John McCarthy

I recently read a syllabus for a college course that struck me as odd. According to the syllabus, the instructor stated that he was preparing his students for the real world. How? If students brought out their cell phone in class they would immediately be told to leave the class. Also, if a student is sent out of the class twice during the course, that person would be kicked out of the course.

This is not made up. Based on the instructor’s faulty logic, people in the workforce are fired without opportunity to redress or remediate the problem, when there is often some sort of due process. Even if the logic was true, if employers let go of employees for the most minor of faults, they would be under staffed, and would be critiqued by their boss for the high cost of constantly retraining new employees. Most likely the manager would be fired for creating such disruption in the work force.

Here are some other myths about the real world that are perpetrated in schools. See which ones you may have encountered:

  1. Late work will not be accepted.

In the real world, a supervisor needs a memo or work product even past the deadline. In most cases, the staffer charged with the task is still required to get it done. Will there be a consequence afterwards? Yes, either officially or unofficially. The staffer may get a dressing down, warned, written up, and/or not be given such responsibility for a long while. Firing is a possibility, but usually not the first option. The work must get done, and if it’s high quality, the staffer might get off with no official penalty.

Accepting late work sends the message to students that they are not off the hook and must get it done.

  1. Listening to music using earbuds while working is a distraction.

There are many offices, cubicles, and cafes where people work while listening to music. They wear earbuds or headphones so as not to disturb others. Work time is different from times for lectures and discussions. Banning the practice denies the opportunity for coaching students on proper etiquette.

  1. Do not ask questions during emergency drills.

A mother shared with me how her child received a demerit for talking during a tornado drill. On the surface, this seems appropriate. If you’re talking then you and those around you won’t hear the instructions from the authorities. In this case, the offending student was asking another student why for a tornado drill they were marching outside to another structure. The other structure was a tornado shelter, which makes sense to an adult mind. However, this child did not understand and asked the teacher, whose adult-minded logical response did not satisfy the concerned child, “But why would you go outside at all if there were a tornado?”

While idle chatter is not appropriate, inquiring questions should be welcomed. People ask questions about different situations and under different circumstances. Schools and most workplaces are not military installations. Speaking up to inquire under any conditions is an important skill, just as responding to someone’s concerns under difficult conditions is critical.

  1. When students fail due to low test scores and missing assignments it’s their responsibility.

Students do share a responsibility to do their best and complete all tasks assigned to them. It’s also the teacher’s responsibility to model perseverance by providing all resources to meet the needs of their students. These efforts can be draining, yet determination and doggedness can lead to students turning around and finding success. How can we expect students to learn to persevere and strive past obstacles if the highly trained professionals give up on them–and the students know it?

In the teaching workforce, when an employee struggles to be effective, they are placed on a work plan. The intent is to help the person improve their practice so as to get off the plan. The process can be quite extensive. Both teacher and administrator are responsible to work together. We should offer the same real-world opportunities to all students.

  1. If a student fails a test there are no retakes.

Only in academia is this practice believed to be the way of life. In many other fields, future professionals can take the required tests multiple times until they pass or get the score that they need. Such examples of these tests for professional certifications include C.P.A (accountants), Bar exam (lawyers), ACT & SAT (prospective college students) and state certification for licensure of teachers.

Allow students to retake a test when they are ready and have grown in their understanding. It’s more important to have highly skilled students then a collection of grades based on the archaic practice of averaging scores.

What are other myths about the real-world that you have experienced or heard about? Post them in the comments section below.


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    • Karen Kittrell on October 12, 2015 at 12:13 pm
    • Reply

    Good points. Assemble-line education policies serve to move the masses through the system. When one student asked for the teacher’s advice on how to prepare for the test, the teacher said she could not say because that would be cheating.

    • Claire Murray on October 6, 2015 at 5:31 pm
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    So true. School is not like life. Kids would be better prepared if it was. But, maybe calling attention to some of these points will motivate teachers to change.

    • Kook-Wha Koh on October 4, 2015 at 12:32 pm
    • Reply

    It is an interesting list.I enjoyed to read it.

    • Wendi Knape on October 3, 2015 at 7:38 am
    • Reply

    Great artical John. I think your assessments are right on the mark.

    • Yibbity on October 3, 2015 at 6:04 am
    • Reply

    I had a professor that let his students know he could make up a test about a subject he had covered so no one would pass. Not sure what good it did or what it taught us. That was years ago. My niece is in college now and the same thing just happened to her.

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