IN MY TEENS
(Picture above: Guess blogger Lynne Olmos with former student and a future teacher, Haylee Hadaller, 2017 Mossyrock graduation)
As a high school student, it was clear to me that college was the best route to a career. The reason I believed this had less to do with what my teachers and advisers had taught me and more to do with my life experiences to that point. When my parents divorced, my mother was a single mother of three without so much as a high school diploma. Our little family faced many struggles as she worked to get her GED and then a degree in civil engineering. The change in our economic status because of her education was dramatic. Naturally, I wanted to start with a college education and avoid the trauma my mother and our family faced. I still believe what I believed then: a college education gives a poor kid with academic skills a chance to break out of poverty.
AS AN ADULT
Unfortunately, college is expensive, and I did not have the means to pay for it outright. I lost hope and decided to go straight into the workforce, always planning to go back. I did, for a while, after getting married, but stopped after a couple semesters when my first child was born. It was many years and struggles before college again became an option. I was still a believer in its worth, and after my own marriage failed and I was a single mother myself, I was driven to improve our lives through education.
We were desperately poor when I started my studies. Five years later, I had a degree and a teaching job, and my kids had a much better standard of living. Once again, I experienced the benefit of a college education.
AS A TEACHER
In 2002, right out of college, I began teaching English, history, and drama in a small rural district in Mossyrock, WA. The region had been hit by economic depression and the local lumber and mining industries were struggling. The future for local teens was looking less and less promising. So, of course I encouraged my students to plan and prepare for college. I emphasized college readiness in my curriculum, teaching research skills and essay writing. The students in my advisory group always got the story of my personal journey, of how college had saved me and provided my family with a better life.
When the Common Core State Standards were introduced and the emphasis on college and career readiness increased, I was enthusiastic and embraced it. Yes! We need all students to have the opportunity to improve their lives through higher education. To me, it was an equity issue. My students deserve the same promising outlook as any in the country. To achieve their goals, college readiness was the first step on the path to a great career.
As the years progressed, and I observed my students and my own children as they navigated college and careers after high school, my understanding of the process began to shift. It was not truly about the research and the essays. Instead, it was more about the fit and the engagement for each individual. So many of them diverged from their initial plan. They dropped out of college, they switched majors, or they graduated and then did something entirely different. We prepared them to start college and we convinced them it was the right thing to do, but we had not given them the experiences to determine the best fit for themselves as individuals. Plus, we had neglected some of the most important skills- creativity, collaboration, communication, and adaptability.
My current advisory students will be seniors next year, and I have been their adviser since seventh grade. Yes, I still care about their essay writing skills and whether or not they know how to cite their sources. However, I am more concerned about what they know about themselves. Have they researched their chosen path? Have they taken classes that support what they want to do in the future? How are their communication and collaboration skills? Are they ready to be innovative and creative in their future careers? This amazing group of teens have a lot of big dreams. They are future teachers, engineers, programmers, nurses, mechanics, and pilots. College and career readiness for them is more than just the standards, the curriculum, and the assessments. It is about their own self-knowledge and the background they are building as they pursue their goals.
My most important job is to guide them as they research their paths into the future. As we progress through their High School and Beyond Plan, I council them to be flexible and adaptable. In this changing world, as we prepare for the future, we really don’t know what that means. Careers right out of high school are a viable option and college is still a great place to learn. We can help them consider the financial aspects of their choices. We work together to research all possible options.
All high school graduates need to have a good inventory of their interests, talents, dreams, and skills. With solid basic skills in core subjects, growing self-confidence, a plan for their future, and a community of support, they will be ready for the next step on their journey, whatever that might be.
Where once I believed that it was simply the college diploma that made all the difference, now I know that it is the preparation for the path into the future that is more crucial, particularly when the only thing we truly know about the future is that it will be drastically different from today.
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