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Teaching Students to Plan for Life, Not Just Writing

Our teaching doesn’t end because students transfer or graduate, and sometimes the best planning we can help students do goes beyond an essay. 

A few weeks before the school year ended, a former student returned to see me. In fact, this was the fourth time he had tried to visit. Every other time that he stopped by, we couldn’t meet because of staff or PLC meetings. But this time, I was willing to drop everything to make it happen, even if it meant the septic inspector waiting a few minutes at my house.

I had this student during my second year of teaching. And he’s a student that, like so many students, disappeared abruptly. I don’t know all of the details of what went down, but I know that he had to transfer. In the classroom, he was genuinely friendly and positive. Towering over most other sophomores, he sometimes looked like he didn’t belong. Frequently absent, he often fell behind in his school work, but not once did he ever express disinterest or anger.  

Sitting down with him that day, I learned that he had just graduated from a nearby alternative school. He has his high school diploma, even though it took him a little longer than his peers. Remembering him and the obstacles in his way to making this happen, I was so thrilled for him. 

So I quickly asked my follow-up questions that I ask any graduate: What are you reading? Where will you be one year from now?

I soon learned that for the month that he’d been out of school, he hadn’t been up to much. He and his girlfriend recently broke up, and he spent most of his days playing basketball with his friends nearby, and, at 18, his grandmother still had to drive him places. 

My field and methods instructor in college often used the term “next steps” when it came to teaching and learning. With this young man, I quickly realized that he hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about what’s next. He was living in the now. It’s like the RSA Animate video that explores the concept of time and how people perceive it. Apparently the Sicilian dialect includes no future tense, and it makes it very difficult for Sicilians to think of what “will be.”  Although not from Italy, I could easily make connections. 

Before he left, we agreed upon five things that he needed to accomplish before he could return. In no particular order of importance (although I would say #4 is probably the most important), he was to work on:  

1.     Completing his FAFSA.
2.     Visiting Schoolcraft College.
3.     Finding a job.
4.     Getting a library card.
5.     Saving $500.

Since our meeting, he and I have texted a few times. He’s completed #1, and we are working on #2, where I will attend with him.

Even though I primarily have taught ninth- and tenth-grade students, this experience reminds me that every student could benefit from spending time thinking about their next steps beyond our classroom walls.  If we're getting students ready for career and college, we also have to think about life


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