My American Lit class started their day off today with this journal prompt:
What have you done to work toward life after graduation? Have you researched and visited colleges? Interviewed a military recruiter? Talked with your parents about living arrangements? How ready are you?
Turns out, they aren’t ready at all.
My planned, five minute “you need to start thinking and talking about this” turned into a question and answer session that lasted the whole period. My lesson plan was scrapped for what we teachers call a “teachable moment.” Sometimes, something comes up that’s more important or relevant that what’s mapped out on the pacing guide. In the next forty minutes, we covered everything from in-state versus out-of-state tuition, the evils of student loans, the importance of communicating with their families about expectations and wishes, and how if they didn’t want other people to run their lives, they had to learn to run their own.
Most of them had no idea that student loans had to be paid back. “How are you supposed to have a life if you have to pay that mess back?” Exactly my point, sweet girl!
We talked about options for paying for college, including working full-time and going part time; living at home, working for two years, saving every penny, and then going to school; using GI Bill benefits after spending time in the military; paying cash for college, either because someone has a college fund for them, or through scholarships. Most of them had no idea about how they were going to pay for college.
They also didn’t understand paying taxes and tax refunds, so we went over that.
One girl–my thrift-store, funky jewelry rebel stole my heart completely when she said the most courageous thing a kid can say in a room full of expensively groomed young women. She commented on the fact that if people quit spending so much for useless stuff, they wouldn’t be so broke. Another girl looked at her, shocked. So I asked that girl about her manicure. Fifty dollars a month.
I told her that if she invested that money every month, she’d have nearly $500,000 in the bank when she was ready to retire. She looked shocked, and said, “Doesn’t the government give you a check when you retire?” That was a real eye-opener for several in the class.
I also pointed out that a twenty year career in the military meant a retirement check and a second career. “But I’ll be too old for that,” one boy said.
I laughed and told him, “Trust me, you won’t feel as old at 38 as you think you will now.”
I’m sharing all this because one girl told another that she was lucky that her family had a college fund for her. I told her that it wasn’t luck. It was planning ahead, sacrifice, and wanting a life for their kids that was better than what they had. And I followed it up with, “Someday your kids will be in a class like this, and it’s up to you to decide how they talk about you. It’s about changing your family history.”
The questions slowed down with about seven minutes left in class, so I told them to take a minute and jot down the things they wanted to talk with their families about, and to think about how best to start the conversation with their families.
Here’s my huge frustration: Why are so many of the KIDS in my junior English class having to start this conversation with their PARENTS? They are too young for that responsibility; it shouldn’t be their responsibility at all. It is our job as their parents to be building that conversation as they grow up, so that when they become juniors in high school that they’ll be able to have answers to some of the scariest questions any high school student has to answer.
Think back to your high school days: We were all hot and excited to get out from under our parents and be free. How many of us, though, had any actual clue how to make that happen? I know I didn’t. I have often said that I think the biggest failing of either of my parents was that they didn’t really teach us to manage money. Which in the grand scheme of things means I had pretty good parents.
But even though we were excited about the prospect of being free and independent, we were terrified. Well, I was, anyway. And today’s world, with instant bad news everywhere all the time, is a much scarier place to be.
Tomorrow’s warm-up journal will be to ask them to choose the best thing they got out of yesterday’s conversation and how it will help them, and then we’ll move on to what my lesson plans said we should have been doing today: Native American Oral Tradition and Creation Myths.
If you’re read this far, I’m sure you’ve figured out what your homework is.
Go on; get started.