Friday, June 03, 2005
What Are You Doing Here?
Working in Advisement for a college as I do, I see a lot of different types of people enter for one reason or another. Some people are returning students, some are students who didn't do well at first at another school and are here to bring their G.P.A. up, some are using the school to knock out a few basics while in town for summer. Then there are the seniors from high school. Most are good students or students who didn't do well in high school but realize they need college to succeed. Basically, they do well enough to get that degree and move on. But there are some students who I have to ask, "What are you doing here?" These are usually kids right out of high school, but they can be students who have just shown up and out of the blue decided to go to college. But for now, I'll focus on the seniors. These kids (again, not all seniors, just a few) come into the office and when I ask, "How can I help you?" look at me as if I were insane, then mumble something like, "I want to start going to school." Really? I thought you were here to renew your car tag! I meant, "How SPECIFICALLY can I help you? You didn't come in here to shoot the breeze or admire my office, did you? You want to get an education, is that it? Do you (and I'm just shooting in the dark here, you understand) WANT A DEGREE, PERHAPS?" Places like OSU are requiring more and more that people take Speech classes, and I see why. Some of our students don't seem to be able to communicate at all. Where is the confidence, swagger and know-it-all attitude that teens are supposed to have? I sound like an old fart all of a sudden.

Anyway, the ones you know are in trouble are the ones that come in with their parents. Parents of successful kids usually come in to admire their kids in front of you ("He got a 30 ACT on the science-couldn't he just take a test and get out of taking classes where he already knows everything?") but what I generally see are parents who are coming in because they are making sure their kids go to school. ("If you're going to stay under my roof, you're going to get a job and go to school.") What we as a country need to realize is, some people aren't meant to go to college. I know that's rich coming from a person who works at a community college where the entrance criteria is "Pulse?" "Yes." "You're in!" but really, some aren't destined to go. I know most jobs require at least some college, especially if you don't want to do manual labor for the rest of your life. But there are plenty of jobs still that a person can get without college. And my point is that some just aren't cut out for college. What sucks is that the parents not only don't understand this (or are willfully blind to their kid's shortcomings) or are using their kids to accomplish things they never did. Parents will then argue with me about the cirriculum, such as asking, "He wants to be an engineer, why does he have to take English Comp? Why do you schools (I'm a school, now) make them take courses they'll never need? You're just trying to make money off us!" Really? And you're not going to use the degree to make money? Plus, isn't college SUPPOSED to be a little difficult? Shouldn't there be a little stress and strife in the accomplishment to make it all the more meaningful? I once heard a businessman say that employers don't care what your degree is in, they just want to see you've gotten one to prove you could put up with four years of bullshit. The kid, during these conversations, sits there mutely looking down at his shoes. He doesn't want to be there and couldn't care less about what's going on. Seriously, parents, think about it. You're not taking the classes, the kid is. You can't force them to care. How well do you think the kid will do if he or she's not interested? The kid will learn later that the grades he gets now will never go away, will always be there. We have a few people who try to come back when they're older and say, "Yeah, I didn't really apply myself then so I don't want those grades figured in." Sorry, but they have to be. Federal law. "What if I don't want them to be?" Oh, I had no idea you WANTED something. That makes it different, the fact that you WANT something. Sounds like my stepson. "You can't have that." "But I REALLY want it!" Oh, well then, go ahead.

I understand parents are paying for this (or loans, which, inevitably, the parents will be responsible for because the kids will blow it off) and they want the best bang for their buck. And I also understand that parents want what's best for their child. But you wouldn't drag your kid to skydiving school and say, "He wants to jump in two weeks. What does he have to do?" It's not the parents jumping out of the plane, anymore than it's the parents pursuing the career. There comes a point when the parent has to let go. It's not high school anymore and the kid's actions will follow him to whatever school he decides to go to after us, so why not make sure it's what he even wants to do? And if he's so intelligent and determined and ambitious, why can't HE tell me what he wants? Even when the parents are asking questions, I try to direct the answers to the kid. But usually the kid just keeps looking down or at the parent. We usually cringe when we call a student to come back into our office here and see a parent trailing after them. Inevitably, it's a struggle to get the kid to say anything because he's intimidated by me, the school or his parent. It makes our job that much harder, and the kid looks at school as a nuisance at best or a job at worst and hates it either way. Then he won't do well. Then he'll flunk out. Then he'll work at the job he was going to work at anyway.

Then, of course, the reason why I like this job reiterates itself. A woman came in with her little girl to find out how close she was to finishing. She has busted her butt, raised her child on her own (ET?) and gone to school part-time and over the Internet to get her degree. When I told her that if she changed her degree to a Liberal Arts degree, she could graduate NOW instead of in a year, she was shocked and said, "I love you!" We set up everything and she is now only waiting for her diploma instead of trudging through another semester here. Now she can go on to her 4 year school and work on her bachelor's. She's someone who knows what she wants and will succeed because she sees the big picture. Parents of non-motivated students fail to see what their child is telling them non-verbally by zoning out and not asking questions when they come in and kids fail to see that college can determine what course their lives take for years to come. They may have to leave and come back in a few or many years only to find that the screwing off they did when they were young means repeating courses and/or completely starting over in order to obtain the degree. Only then will they see the big picture.

For many, this is what you have to let them do. Take the lumps and come back when they're ready. Or not go at all.
posted by Unknown @ 10:44 AM | 2 comments

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

1. You can be intimidating. You've done it to me before. I think it's the fact that you're tall and can get a scary look on your face. But in general I think you think you're a big teddy bear.

2. There was a lot of discussion in my education classes about learning styles and how most people that are "meant for college" are almost always audio and/or visual learners.

3. I love the fact that you helped the woman out. You're in a job where you can make a difference but sometimes the person behind the office chair could care less. Some counselor's attitudes are "I had to go through X, Y, and Z--now it's payback time"

4. My daddy went with me to SEOSU (Durant) and ECU (Ada) to enroll. Thing is, I wanted him there so that I wouldn't screw things up. Look at me now! 1 degree + 1 minor = job that I like but has nothing to do with either degree or minor. Whaddayagonnado?

At 1:40 PM, Blogger ET said...

LT, I don't think you're intimidating. Rachel, he's really just shy of 6'...he just SEEMS like he is really tall! I find this funny, because I hear it from EVERYONE. Oh, and he's not really a teddy bear...he really IS that mean. HA HA!

Speaking of people who don't use their degrees...I got a degree in Chemistry and Biology before going to Law School, and now I want to teach English. Go figure. When I was in school, I just really wanted a job where I could get out and make some money (single mother, busting my butt, horribly broke, etc.). Now that I am finally out and making some money (did I mention that I STILL have no health insurance or benefits of any kind?) I want to do what I want to do. Meaning I just should have gotten an English degree and become a professor. But I have evolved a LOT since I started all of those years ago, so maybe it takes the four year (or seven year with law school) plan to sift through all the bullshit and figure out what you really want.

LT is right. Employers don't just want someone who is trained to "do x" unless that someone is just going to sit in a chair and transcribe tapes all day. They want someone who has been trained to think, who can jump through the hoops that college puts in front of him or her, who can learn to deal with people, follow directions, and work as part of a team. (There is no "I" in team, but there is a "me" so don't let them fool you!) I can't tell you how many students I have who just DON'T follow the directions. I can bang my head against the wall telling them "format your paper like this" and "use this font" and "double space everything, but ONLY double space" (and it's on the syllabus WITH a description and examples) and still I get papers that look like someone's word processing program suffered a mental breakdown. But when you get a student who works, participates, and strives to consistently improve himself or herself, and at the end that student is thinking critically and writing better and better, it is all worth it. I had one girl write me with comments on a class I taught this last semester. She said that her new love is analyzing things she reads, because now she understands that the writing goes beyond the words on the page. Another guy told me that I gave him the push he needed and the encouragement to feel that he is up to the task of becoming a writer. To be able to help someone take a step toward deeper understanding or a future goal is SO rewarding...I just want to jump up and down when I hear things like that.

It's not about going to work as a corporate lawyer to wear $2,000 suits, rack up billable hours, and make partner in five years. It's about making a difference to someone. Giving someone the knowledge and confidence to go out into the world and find what they love, change someone's life, show someone a new perspective on something. If I can open the mind or the possibilities of one student, then all the hoops and bullshit it has taken me (and is still taking me -- hello, Masters Degree!) is worth every second.


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