In between stints teaching at the college level, I also spent a few years teaching high school.  The school was a Catholic school that believes (still) its academics are superior to those in all of the area’s other schools and markets the colleges its graduates move on to as proof of this.

NOTE 1: When schools take this position, I always wonder–is it the quality of teacher that makes the difference OR the quality of student who has gravitated to the school.  I mean, if those great students all went to the local public high school, wouldn’t that school suddenly have amazing academics?

NOTE 2:  In my youth, I attended a similar school where I grew up.  The pressure there to go to pricey, high-profile, private colleges was amazing.  Not only to go to those schools, but to apply to multiple schools so the school could say “Look where our graduates were accepted!”

I put these notes to show this is not the phenomenon of a single school or a single era.  The ‘truth’ of this post should resonate with anyone interested in education–because there is truth in the mantra of ‘no child left behind’…just not what the politicians believe.

So as a teacher, I had a student.  His name was Travis (or not…it doesn’t matter, does it?)  Travis did not get good grades in my classes, didn’t do the work, and absolutely did not care–whether it was my class or any other’s.  He didn’t participate in extracurricular activities.  He came to school, he left school, though I knew from his friends (because Travis wasn’t asocial) that he loved to fish and hunt (and always was absent from school the first day hunting season opened).  Still, as a teacher, I don’t like the thought of not getting through to a kid; a teacher MUST try to get through to every student.  You don’t know if your efforts will have a payoff 30 years later or not.

So after the school made a big hoo-hah about seniors and their colleges, I asked Travis (a junior) why he never went to talk to the college reps that came at lunch time, etc.  Travis gave me some attitude.  I told him, “I don’t really care about your decision, I just want to know the logic.”  I have to admit, I figured he just hated school/was a bit lazy.

No–Travis wasn’t lazy.  He had a plan that didn’t fit the school’s desires.  Travis didn’t do sports, etc. because he went to work after school every day.  His employer liked his ethic and had already told him he’d be hired full-time immediately upon graduation at the base union salary of $18/hour for an apprentice.  After six months, they’d pay for a couple certifications for him.  Two years in, he’d be a journeyman and have that salary bumped to $24/hour.  Another five years and he’d be getting $28/hour.  And–because it was in HVAC, he’d have all the overtime he could handle once he was a journeyman.  His logic was that by the time he was 23, he’d be making $70,000/year with no debt and no pressure and he could use all his extra time to hunt and fish.

**So how, as a teacher, do you respond to this student who outright states he doesn’t care about school or college?


I respected the heck out of his answer–and I told him that.  That shocked him because every other teacher kept telling him he was making a huge mistake by not going to college.  College isn’t a goal–it’s a means.  Travis didn’t need that to get to where he wanted, so all of these teachers/administrators pressuring him were making him miserable–and going against what education should be.

I did note one thing for Travis though–but kept the details specific only to my class.  I pointed out that the employment offer was all based on the presumption he was going to graduate.  I gave him the cheesy line “Those who fail History are doomed to repeat it…and repeating means you won’t graduate on time.”  He understood what I was saying–that he had to show his employer he could fulfill the requirement–get the diploma.  It didn’t mean he had to enjoy it, but he had to be competent in the work.   And you know what–from that point forward, me and Travis were pretty square.  He didn’t disrupt anything, did the work needed to avoid flunking (or cutting it close).  He went on graduated, got that job, and that’s the last I know of his life, honestly.  I’m presuming he’s a ‘master’ now and pulling in bank for himself.

* *   * *   * *

The lesson here isn’t just about kids that don’t want to go to college.  It’s bigger than that.  Every student has a different motivator, what drives their behavior.  Teachers have to figure that out for all 10/20/30 people in that classroom.  That’s hard, it requires effort.  If you teach, what are you doing to figure those motivations out?  If you aren’t a teacher–what are you doing to help with this vital work?


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