I had one of those conversations today with a student that makes you remember why you love teaching. Our students get the last six weeks of their senior year to work on an independent project or an internship. I asked one of my seniors what he was planning to do, and he said he was just going to go help one of his elementary teachers. When I asked him why, he said that it seemed easy and he didn't really know what else to do. So I challenged him. I told him it was six weeks of his life he would never get back and that as an adult he would look back with longing at this time and wish someone would give him that time as an adult. I told him to do something that matters.
This lead to a longer conversation about school. He really didn't see that anything he had done in the last four years was related to anything he really cared about. How would it help him when he was out in the real world? I asked him what he cared about, what he wanted to do in the future. He didn't know-which I told him was appropriate at 17-but that he wanted it to be something creative. Eventually we worked our way around to what he thought was really interesting-furniture design-but it was almost as if he was embarrassed to admit it.
Creative endeavors aren't valued in our high stakes culture. My student talked about an older friend who chose between doing something he liked and a career that would make him money. The friend had chosen the career that made money. And he is miserable. But he is too far down this path to change things: in debt for college and graduate school, he has to continue in this money making field in order to pay back his hundreds of thousands of dollars of loans. What are we doing to our kids?
The story has a good ending: my student is potentially taking an internship working for a company that makes furniture for handicapped children: Adaptive Design Association. Even if this internship isn't the one, I think he's been empowered to do something that he cares about and something that matters.