One of the ways I try to make instruction more relevant for students is making strong connections between school and the future – especially to college and the workplace. I know, many people feel that education isn’t just be about getting into a good college or getting a job. But, the reality is many students will someday go to some sort of post-secondary institution and probably everyone will have a job of some kind. How can it hurt to connect to that reality once in a while?
If you want to see my thoughts on this issue in more detail, see my book (gratuitous book plug!).
Anyhow, I usually have a project each year where I have my 8th graders explore their strengths and interests, daydream a little about their dream future, fill in college applications, create resumes and cover letters and even conduct mock interviews.
One year, while guiding the students through this exercise, I happened to have a lot of students interested and curious about jobs in professional sports – especially becoming pro athletes. I wanted to make the exploration of such a career a little deeper and more relevant, so I brainstormed some ideas. Fortunately, I happened to have a resource right on staff. We had an employee in the school’s IT department who used to be a pro athlete. José Mambru was a pitching prospect in the New York Yankees’ farm system. He was an up-and-comer and poised for big things. Unfortunately for José , injury cut his baseball playing career short. I invited José to come to my class and meet with those students interested in sports.
Now, before you get all judgmental on me, hear me out: yes, this was a tragic story. And yes, sharing it with the students would perhaps rain on the dream-filled parades of the students. But, it was a real story and a valuable lesson for students to consider in terms of having a backup plan in case their dreams did not come true.
José came to class and met with the students. At first, the students asked about the Yankees and whether José met any famous players or did anything cool, like throw a no-hitter, or give A-Rod some chin music at the plate. José was great – he shared some cool anecdotes, but he did not shy away from reality. He was specific about the ratio of training to playing time – which is important as many students who dream of a career in sports think it is just about the thrill of playing in front of cheering fans. He was also frank about his injury and how mentally challenging it was to deal with.
This was everything he had ever dreamed of.
This was his ticket to fame and fortune.
This was financial security for his family.
And, in a single instant, it was all gone.
José then talked to the students about the importance of being resilient – about rising above obstructions and moving on. He talked about having a backup plan; about being prepared for the worst while you dream of the best.
Later, when we were back in class and talking about planning for the future, the students who met with José were able to add valuable insights to our discussions about chasing our dreams.
All in all, it was a valuable experience for all my students.