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By Guest Writer: Holly Winter
When asking a class of middle school students to write about success, one girl wrote: “My mother was successful at smoking crack and my father was successful at getting himself murdered.”
Her statements bring the ideas of success into focus. This student isn't in jail, on drugs, and she doesn’t have a group of enemies wanting to kill her. She believes that her life is already a success, and doesn’t care if she passes math or joins a club when she gets to high school.
As educators we must go beyond teaching basic skills and help students figure out their strengths, their passions, and their interests if we want to help them find success. By helping a student understand that her love of animals, or his desire to help others, or her love of writing, or his gift for math computation could set a career direction that will help each student find success.
This is not a call for more career surveys. An eighth-grade boy who has his heart set on becoming a police officer took a career survey last month. The results pointed him away from entering a helping field. The survey specifically stated that he should not consider police work.
I asked him to list what he likes to read, the topics he writes about, and even the television shows he watches. Was his interest based on a fantasy of playing professional football and retiring before the age of 30?
“Not at all.” He assured me. “I can imagine myself being a police officer and helping people feel safe. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
I gave him permission to follow his dream.
My student who was questioning successes in her family had her own idea of what success would look like for her in the future. “I want to teach in a college.”
“Do you like to help people learn new information?” I asked her.
“No. I think people should figure things out for themselves.” She answered.
I laughed. “What is it about being a college professor that interests you?”
She let out a slow sigh. “I want people to know how smart I am.”
“Looks like you’re going to college.” I smiled. “There are many careers that come with the prestige of intelligence.”
If we help students figure out their interests, then they can set a goal which will help direct their lives. We can teach students to lead more successful lives rather than merely existing. Success is more than learning skills and passing tests. We have to help students link their interests to their abilities so they will have more choices later. Isn’t having choices what education is all about?
Holly Winter is a teacher, writer, and photographer living in Denver, CO. Her memoir Unlikely Memories and Two Amnesias is available through her website: www.hollywinter.com. Follow her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/hollywwinter) and Instagram (http://instagram.com/mshollywinter). Like her Facebook page, too! (https://www.facebook.com/mshollywinter)