February 15, 2009

On Being Successful in Life

My last post about an irritating sub may have bugging me more because of a a sub I had earlier this year who preached to my students while he was in my classroom.

The students told me that the sub had talked to them most of the period, but they didn't give me details. It wasn't until a few weeks later when the sub showed up in another teacher's classroom and one my students, who is also on publications staff, revealed her supreme irritation at what the sub preached in my classroom a few weeks before.

Apparently, he told the students that they wouldn't be anything without a master's degree.

These are not the encouraging words I would use with inner city immigrant kids. Nothing without a master's degree. Wow.

My irritated student is one of my best and brightest in the magnet program. She is college-bound, but she was offended at what the man was saying. Her own mother is a teacher who started her master's degree but decided to wait until her children were older to continue. The girl's father attended a tech school and works for a casino doing something with slot machines. (Maybe not a well-known career world-wide, but here in Nevada, it would be considered a skilled trade, and I'm sure he makes a good living.) I could imagine her offense because I know her family, and they are intellectual and successful. How could a stranger offend her family?

I was irritated, too. Seriously? To be anything in life, you have to go to college and get a master's degree? That's a bit short-sighted. When I was young, I also once thought to be the most successful, one had to go to college. So I did. I pushed my students to do the same, and I suppose I still do to some extent. Telling students they have to go to college to be successful in inaccurate at best. What was right for me, isn't right for everyone.

Over the years, I've taught more students who were not college material that who were college material. And when I mean college material, I am talking about their abilities and their interests in attending college. Many of these students barely squeaked by, earning the bare minimum grades to earn credit, but when it came to working their after school jobs, they were model employees. Sure, money might have been a motivating factor, but many of them were simply built to learn more from the workforce than from in a classroom. College is a waste of time and money for students like this.

I encourage my students to be productive members of society and to choose careers that make them happy. Not just jobs. Careers. Maybe it's just semantics, but it's really about taking pride in what you do and doing it well. I encourage them to continue their educations with some sort of trade school or apprenticeship training if they are not interested in careers that require college. (If they are interested in college, but seem insecure, I suggest a junior college first.) One of the things our school district is doing right is building more technical magnet high schools. It truly reflects current workforce of our city, and recognizes the needs and interests of our students. Can you imagine the idea of students who are ready for the workforce upon graduation of high school? More power to them!

There was a time when a lot of my students joined the military (when I worked in a rural school), and for many of them, it was because they didn't know what they wanted to do with their lives and joining the military provided a lot of opportunities and a steady paycheck. I was never so proud as I was of the large group of boys from the Class of 2003 who enlisted in the Army, knowing full well that it was not the same Army their friends and brothers had joined a few years before. It would be unwise for anyone to disparage the choices of these young people in my presence. Them's fightin' words!

What is being successful anyway? If success is about money, I know plenty of people who don't have any higher education and make more money than I do. Their high pay comes from years of experience of a job well done. If success is about respect, that's something that can be earned through several means, such as knowledge, experience, and they way you treat others. If success is about happiness, that's a personal issue. Some of us find happiness in our jobs and careers, but other of us find it in the time we have outside of the workplace.

So, what of the students who never go to college, trade school, or into the military? What of the students who simply find jobs that will pay the bills? That comes down to simply finding happiness. Are they happy with their lives? Are they fulfilling their dreams, even if it's bit by bit? Do I look down my nose on that former student who has been working in a mine for the last 10 years and is proudest when he shows me pictures of his wife and children? Do I say, "Did you go to college?" No! I shake his hand, give him a hug, pat him on the back, and say, "Congratulations! You have a beautiful family, and I am happy your life turned out so well!" Am I as happy and proud of him as I am of his classmate who spent years in college and has finally become the lawyer she always wanted to be? You betcha.

I don't know who that sub was telling students what they had to do to be successful in life, but I know he's not me. He hasn't seen what I have seen in the lives of students. I know my philosophy about higher education and what it means to be successful in life come directly from being a teacher. I'd really like to know where his comes from.

1 comment:

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