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Carroll County High School graduated my youngest son last month, marking the second time I have celebrated a child’s successful transition from this high school to college.
My boys did not have to go to college to be successful, of course. They could have turned their entrepreneurial skills into an edgy tech startup and installed me as a puppet president with benefits. And a meal plan. They did not. Instead, following their mother’s advice, they chose college.
The great news is that this district’s instructors and staff prepared them for such a scenario.
First, and foremost, they offered them the opportunity for an education. Please note the choice of “opportunity” in the last sentence. Having spent no few years as a student myself, I know full well that, presuming student capability and solid instruction, a fair part of the learning experience comes down to student attitude.
Not all people see it this way. There is an Old West narrative of education that expects teachers to wrestle an unwilling hombre to the mat, pour facts into a deaf ear, and win over parents hostile to the system before riding off into the sunset with a tip of the hat: “Keep up the long division, pardner!” But the better part of learning happens when kids and parents and teachers cooperate. My sons did not always cooperate. Neither did I. But when we were cooperative with able instructors and realistic expectations, very good things happened.
Second, my sons were deeply influenced by the people instructing them. While they may not have used the word “competent” to describe their favorite teachers, this was actually behind the attraction. Open, unapologetic competency in teachers and coaches is nearly irresistible. I see now that the boys recognized truly competent people both early and late in their education. They later came to see that principals and teachers, past and present, were real people exercising real ideals in often difficult settings. This only heightened their respect for the school staff.
I’m sure they were guilty of disliking a teacher for the wrong reason, but they were far more likely to enjoy a teacher for the right reason. It was common for them to walk in the door at the end of a school day and retell the witty remarks of an instructor. In the case of both my sons, they saw in their teachers shades of adulthood they wanted in themselves. Judging by my sons’ college directions, these adults shaped their behavior as well as their direction. If you ask me, that is a credible benefit of a classroom.
Third, and important to us, they left ready for college. In saying this I imply that no one season of education is more or less important than another. A second-grade teacher has as much right to argue for her importance as the freshman math teacher. We benefited from all these teachers, all these assistants, all the people keeping the details of an education in place. We regularly felt that our boys landed with the right teacher at the right time in their lives.
Because our boys showed the capacity for college work, we wanted them to go to college. This required a district that did not apologize for an interest in the academic. It also required tough classes and teachers who expected quality work. We feel these were afforded us. And while college success presumes the academic, it is also dependent on maturity. Except when it came to Frisbees and sunshine (wink, wink, Jimmy Mundane), maturity was rewarded.
Do not be misled. Our road had its complicated teacher relationships, missed opportunities, and parental miscues. All parents learn that real-life education involves sobering conversations with kids and teachers, not to mention a little personal soul-searching when the storm calms. Not all teachers inspired and we did not inspire all teachers. Neither kids nor teachers are machines, and we are hardly guaranteed to get the best out of either of them every school day.
It is enough for me, however, that the real people we call “district personnel” work figuratively and literally overtime to find a way for a child to succeed. I’ve seen it. And for that I am grateful.
The Rev. Chris White, D.Min., is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Ky.