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What Happens When We Get to College, Mrs. Clark?

Leah Clark Uncategorized

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One of my favorite aspects of being a teacher is talking with the kids. Just talking. Asking them questions about themselves, their friends and families, hobbies, other classes, after school activities, and future plans. I sit back listening as they detail their lives. Last week after my school hosted our first college and career fair, I couldn’t wait to ask about their morning. 

Every junior and senior attended a three-hour rotation including a college and career fair, keynote speaker, and a seminar to attend from a menu of choices. I snuck into the keynote speaker and was very impressed with her message. An alumna of our school, she told her story and asked kids to own their story and share it with others. I especially loved it when she told the kids that sometimes, you simply have to get a job somewhere. It probably won’t be your dream first job, but everyone has to start somewhere. From there, you have to show up and work. Experience is key in landing your next job. I felt great walking out of the session.

As my student council kids walked into class post sessions, I was dying to hear their thoughts. Did they love the keynote speaker as much as I did? Where they psyched to graduate and begin their post-high school lives?

I asked each member to share their biggest takeaway from the event. Each kid commented about something they learned. Success! Or so I thought.

What happened next truly surprised me. One of the seniors shyly raised his hand and said, “Can I ask you a question?” I replied, “Of course. What’s up?” He said, “What happens when we get to college?” Ummm, what? Come again. What happens when we get to college? Well, I replied, you are going to take general education classes for a couple of years. Pick a major and a minor. Take those classes. Maybe throw in a PE class to relieve stress. You might decide to double major. 

This was simply the beginning of a barrage of questions about college and frankly, life. I realized we talk about college as some mythical land where we want our students to go. But once they get there, they have no idea what happens next. 

I listened as they peppered me with more questions. What is a major? A minor? I tried to answer them to the best of my ability, but I graduated nearly 15 years ago, so I assume some stuff has changed. I mean, we had AOL Instant Messenger for goodness sake.  I’ll find out was a common response. 

I started thinking about the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards. Where in there does it say our kids need to learn about college credit hours? Or what happens if you don’t get along with your roommate or you want to change majors? I understand the universities provide support for freshmen but based on my conversation, the kids want to know sooner than later.

Many of my kids explained that they will be the first person in their family to attend college. This is an amazing accomplishment. I, too, was the first in my family to graduate from college. I think they feel some sort of pressure to have it all figured out. I kept reminding them that they were freshmen just three or four short years ago. They didn’t know how to navigate high school. But they figured it out with success and college will be very much the same.

However, I am worried about the kids. How can we better prepare them for college life? Do we need to start including this into our curriculum? Should there be some sort of College 101 course offered to seniors? Are other schools experiencing similar sentiments? Or have other schools created a way to teach students the reality of college while still keeping the mystery alive? 

This conversation has had me thinking for over a week now. I’ve decided to carve out time for more of these talks. While I am often asking the questions, it’s great to hear the kids asking them, even if I don’t have all the answers. 


Leah Clark

Phoenix, Arizona

I joined the teaching profession after spending several years in luxury retail. While the free clothes and handbags were definite job perks, I felt burned out and tired of long hours, weekends and holidays. So, I went back to school to become a teacher and have never looked back. I love my job!
My teaching philosophy is simple: Do what’s best for kids. While it’s not eloquent, this humble phrase directs every decision I make about teaching and students. As a Language Arts teacher at a central Phoenix high school, it’s my honor and passion to create opportunities for students to communicate, collaborate, create and connect with one another and the world around them.
When I am not grading a stack of essays, planning a new lesson, or chaperoning a school dance, I love riding my yellow Huffy bicycle around town, sampling a new restaurant, and traveling to Flagstaff with my husband.

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