Maintaining Honesty With The Prospectively Educated Youth
Much to my students’ insistence that it is the classroom itself which qualifies as the most depressing place on campus, I have to object and nominate the teacher’s lounge as a front-running candidate in that race. It’s tiny, the wallpaper is a bland opaque color (with peeling around the edges), the fridge is missing a light bulb, and there is only one microwave, equipped with nothing more than a windup timer [come on people, it's the 21st Century; what's a guy gotta do to get some digital appliances around here?]. Needless to say few members of the faculty spent a significant amount of time in there. Personally, I spend every lunch period in my classroom, as it gives me space and quiet to eat my meal and prepare for the next class session. Yet, for the last two weeks or so, this routine has been consistently disturbed by a group of pestering students who have taken a fondness to spending their designated lunchtime hanging around my classroom (if only I could get them this eager about entering the place during lecture hours). At first I was adamant about not letting them in, but as they insisted how they had no other peaceful place to sit on campus I reluctantly gave in (perhaps memories of trying to find a solitary place to spend lunch during my own high school years makes me a bit softhearted on the whole thing). I initially assumed they would mostly keep to themselves (isn’t it common knowledge that teachers are the teenagers natural adversary?), but from the first day on, this ragtag group of lunchtime misfits have made it their mission to bombard me with questions, issues, and dilemmas, ranging in a variety of serious and not-so-serious topics.
College has been their favorite subject to date. They want to know how college courses are scheduled; what to expect upon arriving on campus; housing arrangements and options; financial aid resources; etc, etc, etc. I don’t mind being questioned on any of this, and part of me is even proud to see them looking to investigate their options on the topic so early in their educational endeavors. Part of the duty of any high school teacher (in my opinion) is to prepare students to hopefully be ready to take on the rigors of college studies (or, at least, give them the confidence to believe that this option is available to them), and anything I can do to ease the transition is time worth spent, as far as I’m concerned.
Above all else, I strive to be honest in the answers I provide to my students. Which is why the hardest question for me to address in these lunchtime meetups is, “Is going to college the right decision for everyone, and will it really make a big difference on my future standard of living?” The answer I instinctively want to give is a resounding, “Yes, of course.” After all, that is the answer I am trained to give. What sort of an educator would consider any other response but to enthusiastically encourage his students to always continue their education, no matter what? And this is the position I want to promote to them every time the question comes up. However, as I already stated, I also want to be completely honest with them. And the simple truth is that, no, college is not always the best option for everyone, in every conceivable situation; and graduating from college does not in itself always guarantee a good future standard of living. Allow me to explain.
During college, I saved on housing expenses by sharing a four bedroom apartment off-campus with three other guys from school. All four of us are still on good enough terms to occasionally send an email here and there to catch up on our individual lives. As it turns out, I am currently the only one of us four who is employed. In fact, I am the only one who appears to have been steadily employed since graduation (and we graduated all the way back in ’08/’09). Despite having lucrative college degrees with stellar grade point averages (two of them were engineering majors, who graduated with honors), these three guys have been moving around from one low-paying job to another, with no career prospects in sight (especially since they’re all currently unemployed). Now, it would be disingenuous to claim that this is the college’s fault, since there could be a number of factors contributing to this effect (the poor economy would be a likely candidate, but I also can’t discount any possible lack of focus or determination on the part of my former roommates, on account that I haven’t seen them that much over the years, therefore am not purview to their post-graduation work ethic). Regardless, these three men are essentially in the exact same place they would have been if they had never attended college in the first place; with the exception that now they’re also several thousands of dollars in dept from defaulted student loans that they have no current means of paying back. Given my primary knowledge of these sort of examples, it would be just plain dishonest of me if I failed to acknowledge the fact that there exist situations where college degrees seemed to have had little-to-no real impact in the lives of some individuals who hold them.
I still encourage my inquiring students to go to college, and experience the numerous benefits that can be gained from the experience (I also make sure to tell them not to be discouraged at the sight of the first obstacle that comes their way in the course of this experience, because not every hurdle should be mistaken for a roadblock). But I don’t dare hide the reality of the less appealing scenarios from them. Naturally, I hope it doesn’t talk them out of enrolling at a university after their respective graduations, but I feel that if I wasn’t completely honest with them about all the possibilities I would be failing them as someone whom they see as a reliable authority figure on the subject. It’s times like this that part of me wants to shamefully avoid the responsibility of the conversation altogether by retreating with my lunch to that dingy teacher’s lounge, but that wouldn’t be fair to the students eager to get whatever advice they can gather about one of the more important decision they’ll be making in their young lives. Not to mention, it would be a clear indication that I have no business being in this line of work.
(Also, I’m much too prideful to admit that I don’t know how to use that archaic microwave timer. Look, it goes all the way up to 80. But 80 what?! Seconds? Minutes? Hours? I don’t know! I tried using it once, but I got scared when it didn’t turn off after a minute and a half, so like a coward I unplugged it from the wall and ran away before the other teachers saw me. Curse ye foul machine, I curse ye to the depths of Hades!)