Originally posted on June 8, 2015
The arrival of June ushers in thoughts of celebrating flags, fathers and the final days of school. Students often eagerly count down the days, finalizing plans for summer school, or if they are graduating, fun and work/college down the road.
The biggest challenge seems to come with those students who are more focused on the fun on the other side of the proverbial white tape than completing their studies with skill and proficiency. Now, part of this problem is systemic. Arts programs have year-end performances and sports teams are competing in playoff or championship games. But, some schools also seemed to have responded to this “tuning out” by encouraging teachers to not make the last few days too rigorous.
No matter the cause, this lackadaisical attitude can lead to a whole host of poor choices that can have long-term consequences. Despite how closely we monitor students, especially those set to graduate, the pressure that comes with the end of May and beginning of June, plus an unfortunate institutional trend to allow student to mitigate the consequences of any bad action, prompts the unprepared student to believe he or she can do almost anything and make up for it later.
Students will do things like not complete finals or cheat on said end-of-term assignments, violate campus regulations regarding fighting or drug use, or even fail a class that is a graduation requirement and expect to argue their way out of it. We have behavior contracts, student meetings, calls and certified letters home to parents that address these issues, but you see this behavior to a greater or lesser degree every year.
If we were leaving one job for another, the vast majority of us would not expect to get off scot free if we violated the company's rules on our way out the door. If we help our students to understand this concept they will be better off. In essence, they need to think like the college students or working professionals they are becoming rather than the teenagers they are today.
Rather than counting down the days, they should number the remaining tasks and plan how and when they will finish them. Checking things off a list and blocking out days for projects, homework or studying will help keep them on track.
As part of this planning process, building in time for fun or relaxation from stress is mandatory. There is nothing wrong with an afternoon off with friends or family to help recharge the batteries, so long as the work is getting done.
The final piece of advice may be the hardest: choosing friends wisely and drawing appropriate boundaries. Hopefully you have helped your student in this regard already, but pressure can impact normally good students in very bad ways. Now, you want your student to be a friend to others in times of need, but each student earns his or her own grades and sometimes needs to focus first on doing well in English or Physics or AP U.S. History and friends second.
In the end, the goal is the same: completing the school year well, or walking across a stage and receiving a diploma. Anything that gets in the way of that should not be taken lightly.
Implementing some or all of these steps hopefully will help your student not only finish the race of high school, but do so well.
Originally posted on April 6, 2015
As a fan of presidential trivia, I remember how surprised I was to discover that nine of America’s commanders-in-chief never attended college, with Harry Truman being the last to rise to the highest office in the land with such a humble pedigree.
Another reason this fact stands out is because of the obsessive push we have about ensuring virtually everyone in the next generation earns a four-year degree. We assume acquiring this piece of paper signifies you are an adult who is fully prepared to conquer the globe. The corporate world has bought into this mindset by requiring even entry-level employees have a bachelor’s degree.
The problem is the promise of a better life does not always match the reality. Students in America have borrowed more than $1 trillion to cover the cover of such an education and the average 20-something graduate has acquired more than $30,000 in student loans, with many owing much, much more. These recently minted alums need to find a job that will allow them to meet this significant obligation in the next decade, or else. This was easier in my generation and those before me, but with the skyrocketing cost of education, such a task has become much more onerous. Many of these problems and more are examined in the CNN Films documentary Ivory Tower, which I highly recommend.
Now that we’ve identified the problem, what is the solution? Well, as I see it, there are three questions to ask before making a decision that will impact the next 15 years of your student’s life, if not longer.
Who’s offering the most “free” money? Colleges are in the business of providing students with an opportunity to learn and, like other organizations that package and sell a product, have become very adept at concealing its true costs. Sure, going to college can cost $20,000–$30,000 a year, but the university’s financial aid department is willing to present what appears to be a very appealing package covering almost all of these costs. A closer look, however, reveals much of this assistance comes in the form of loans that must be paid back. It may look like your student is getting nearly a free education, but instead they will be expected to pay back $8,000–$15,000 or more per year in loans. If your student has earned a full-ride scholarship based upon grades or extra-curricular activities, then he or she is in a very fortunate position and probably should sign acceptance papers as soon as humanly possible. Yet for the vast majority of students, going to college is nowhere near this easy.
Is a four-year college the best place to go? We have been conditioned to think a four-year institution is the best place to learn what is needed to be successful in the professional world, but helping students earn degrees that automatically will translate into a job a week after graduation has never been the primary goal of college. It is helpful to remember higher learning was originally modeled on the idea of Plato’s Academy, in which the wealthy elites would contemplate the meaning of life and the world around them. Clearly such an education is unnecessary to fix a drain, repair a car, or help someone open a bank account. While it is a larger battle to convince companies that internship programs would be much more valuable to them than the bachelor’s degrees many require, we should at least accept the obvious fact there are many, respectable professions requiring advanced training not found at your local university. These programs often are less expensive than a traditional college degree program and have a much greater likelihood of job placement after graduation.
Is a four-year college the best place to go right now? Over the years, community colleges have earned a negative reputation for the same reason Ivy Leagues universities have garnered a positive one: acceptance rates. Relatively few people can get into Columbia, Harvard or Yale, but anybody can take classes at your local community college. Because these programs are so easily accessible and affordable, it has lead people to believe teens go to community college as a last resort and most students at these schools subsequently drop out and become failures in life. They also believe the opposite is true for those attending the regional university. As someone who has taught at five colleges, four of which were four-year institutions, I can tell you this simply is not true. You have good and bad students at both places. You might have more poor-performing students at community colleges because a wider swath of the population attends these colleges, but that doesn’t mean your student will fall into the trap of failure any more than he or she would attending any other school (as a side note, graduation rates at your student’s four-year school of choice may not be as high as you might think). And their workforce training programs offer a practical education at a quite affordable cost.
The honors programs at community colleges, for example, are their best-kept secret. At the community college where I currently teach, I know the director of the honors program and we regularly discuss its merits: small class sizes, great internship opportunities and a dedicated counselor making sure students are on-track to graduate from our institution and transfer to the four-year college of their choice, all for thousands less than going there right out of high school. I tell my students to run the numbers, and then buy a pennant from their dream college and put in on their wall as a reminder that community college is a steppingstone, not a final destination, for those who have higher aspirations.
So, the most important thing to understand is whether it is best in the long run for your student to attend a technical program, a community college or a four-year university.
For, in the end, it matters not where you start, but where you end up.
I have been a public high school teacher in Southern California since 2005 and writing since junior high. I have an affinity for chocolate, photography, sarcasm and well-written TV shows that refuse to talk down to their audiences.