Skip to main content

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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Handwritten Cue Cards in the 21st Century

I just stumbled upon this behind-the-scenes clip of Saturday Night Live's cue card process. This is intense writing. This is writing that is dependent upon trust and checks and balances. Over a short period of time, skits are written, drafted on cards, revised, and the cards revised over and over again. I also really love that SNL continues to use cue cards and not a teleprompter. Like Wally points out, technology can fail. Handwritten cue cards ensure the show goes on. Comedy is hard work. Writing is hard work. Changes are made up until the last minute to get things just right. This is a form of real-world writing.

What's your "gap plan"?

Brene Brown introduces the "family gap plan" in the fourth episode of her podcast, Unlocking Us . This came about when she and her husband would argue when she would return home from traveling. It seemed like the minute she walked in, her husband would expect her to be ready for him to "tap out," where she could take over where he had been supporting the family. While she was away from home, this didn't mean that she was full of energy and at 100% the minute she walked in the door. She had been working too and was exhausted. So, over time they began to name where they were at as people and as a family: I'm at 10%. I'm at 30%. They knew they needed a plan for when collectively she and her husband were not at 100%, but they needed to be for their family. Beyond our personal lives, the idea of a "gap plan" got me thinking about our classrooms and schools. What happens when we are not at 100% or we know that our classrooms or students are not

I should’ve taken the time

Yesterday during a teacher observation, a student asked me to step into the hall and talk with them. At the time, it didn’t seem urgent. With this student in particular, we have talked often. Sometimes it was important, other times—from my perspective—it didn’t seem that urgent.  When I asked her if it could wait 10 minutes, she shut down. I could see the change in how she sat and participated, withdrawing into her desk and no longer asking for help from those around her. There was a noticeable difference in how she interacted with her peers the minute those words came out.  When I noticed the change, I tried to drop everything right there and talk with her.  Let’s go talk, right now,  I said.  No, it’s fine , she replied. And despite my multiple check-ins while she was working independently, she declined the opportunity to talk again that hour.  Without even realizing it, I had damaged our relationship.  We ended up talking later that the day. I saw her as she walked to her next class