I work in a small rural school. My students have been sitting next to the same people since kindergarten. They are generally very sweet to each other but on the days they can’t seem to get along I like to remind them that these are the same people they will be in school with for the next SEVEN YEARS of their lives. No one’s coming in, and likely no one’s going out. The struggle is real.
Anyways, sometimes I picture my students as those seniors in high school still all stuck together. I imagine them hanging out, grown up nuggets, probably in the same little groups that they play in on the playground. I picture my peewee basketball players dressing out for varsity and my little scientist X absolutely destroying AP Chemistry. I know what they want for themselves, who is afraid to go to college too far away from home, and what they all need to do to become the doctors, astronomers, and writers they say they want to be. I picture it happening but I wonder what it will take today, and in the next seven years, to really get there.
Seven years to graduation. Seven years to get it right.
Not quite seven years ago, when I was in high school, I was on one sports team that had a particularly strong influence over my plans for after graduation. My teammates and I had similar goals as my students do today: nursing, law, and architecture (among a myriad of other things). Today as I found myself thinking back to that group of 18 girls and guys, I wondered what happened to all of us. Did we get it right?
5 of us graduated with a bachelor’s degree. 2 earned an associate’s degree. 4 went to a university or community college for a little while but left and 1 never made it on campus. 6 are still in school today working for 4-year degrees on a 5 or 6-year schedule. Almost all of us paid for school completely on our own. We all stayed in state, 16 of the 17 at public institutions.
Today we are dental assistants, servers, managers, aspiring nurses and accountants, coaches, and pharmacy technicians. One of my teammates is a sex worker while another is a public school teacher. All in all, we are mostly not what we planned. So, the question remains: Did we get it right?
I don’t know how to answer that question. Besides, who or what is responsible for that we become what we planned? Our parents? Our teachers? Our preachers, coaches, and peers? I’m sure that we are responsible… and probably, a whole slew of other people, events, and situations beyond our control also played into what we have become. I’m proud of my friends and I’m proud of the people we’ve grown up to be. 100 percent. I know that I am proud to be a teacher, just like my older sister, and that many of my teammates are proud to be doing what they do. We are proud to be earning a living and proud to be a part of the community we come from.
We’re not from a ritzy area or a place stricken by poverty. We’re from an average Midwestern community where people never move away and you try not to become an alcoholic and you don’t really realize you’re not a dreamer. You shop at Target and aspire to have a house with a garage and that’s pretty much it. Nothing special but still infinitely more privileged, free, and prosperous than this town where my students are growing up. While my teammates and I are proud of who we are, I recognize that you could say that we didn’t quite get it right. We have many stories of disappointment, embarrassment, and frustration with our educations and careers. If this is true in our lives, almost exclusively white middle class suburbanites, what does it mean for my students, almost exclusively poor rural people of color or farmer’s kids?
I don’t know the answer to that, either. I feel like I don’t have an answer to anything.
Seven years until graduation. What do we need to do to get it right?