January 1st indicates a chance to start fresh and many of us attempt to tackle unrealistic and absolutely unobtainable goals. For me, it represents the end of letter of recommendation season.
I’m honored to write a letter. What better way to exercise your purpose as a teacher than helping someone continue their education. I also enjoy writing letters because it is challenging; I’m forced to be creative.
Along with letters of recommendation, those of us that teach seniors see the first third of the year as “I’m freaking out because everybody says I need a plan for college and life—I don’t know what to do!”
Seniors are justified in their feelings. The pressure to succeed is often overwhelming.
I’ve developed a reputation in my school as the guy who can calm a senior down. Many of the conversations are with students who were advised to chat with me by their friends. “Mr. R, Jennifer S is my friend. She said you can help me with next year.”
I’d like to share how I deal with three frequent comments in this type of conversation.
1) Student comment: “I’m not sure what to do next year, what should I major in?”
My response: “ I’m not sure what to do next year either, so you’re not alone. I LOVE teaching… but interests and passions change. Before teaching, I was a salmon biologist in Alaska, so expect your interests to ebb and flow.”
My advice: Use college to discover your interests.
A senior is only 18. Most of them are under the impression that the decision to choose a major is a choice in what to do with the rest of their life. However, a typical 18 year old kid has been floating along under the guidance of their parents and teachers. They are not interested in psychology or anthropology. They are interested in playing soccer and twitter. When they don’t see “twitter” and “soccer” as majors, they realize that their interests are of no value. This can be a scary notion.
A senior can treat college as a chance to sample potential interests. They get to test drive different fields of study through the variety of introductory courses offered by their school.
2) Student comment: “all I know is that I want to make a lot of money…”
My response: “You will, but prioritize doing something that makes you happy.”
My advice: Once you have identified an interest, work hard to move forward and find your niche.
I’m comfortable advising the students to NOT specifically focus on money because I am familiar with Dr. Edward Deci. Deci conducts research on human motivation. He finds that individuals who are intrinsically motivated are happier and more successful then people who are extrinsically motivated. In other words, doing work for the innate personal value of the activity trumps “I’m only in it for the money.” Follow your passion is not what I’m advocating and is actually terrible advice (thank you Cal Newport). I’m suggesting that they be good at something they are interested in.
3) Student comment: “I’m worried that I won’t know anyone next year.”
My response: “Nobody will know anybody next year.”
My advice: “It’s not what you know, it is who you know is somewhat true. In the last 18 years, you have learned A LOT about what makes a good friend. Using what you’ve learned, meet new people and connect with them. Prioritize who you know.”
Being connected to others is at the core of human existence. College gives an individual an amazing opportunity to add people to their personal relationship resume. Each person is not only a door of opportunity in the future (professors), but also an ingredient to help texture their existence.
Upon leaving for college, my father told me: “Stay away from cults.” He was serious and it was good advice. Pick and choose your connections carefully!
To summarize the advice I give to seniors: use college as a way to develop interests, connect with others, and don’t focus on money.
A quick and awesome resource for a “freaking-out” senior is The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. It is a graphic novel that gives fantastic advice to young people attempting to find their way.
Thanks for reading.