Injecting Reality or Killing Dreams?

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Okay, on to today's story. Do you read You should. She scoops up all the best edu-stories, adds in pithy commentary.

The other day Joanne linked to a story about college professors. Though it could apply to high school teachers. Question: if a kid has an "unrealistic" professional, college, or life goal, how do you respond?

It's actually not so much the article itself, but the 40+ comments below that Joanne found interesting. Me too.

One one hand:

My son is in middle school, and in preparation for "career day," each student in the class was asked to state their desired profession. My son indicated that he wanted to be a musician (at age 12, he plays guitar, bass, drums, trombone, and sings). His teacher insisted that he choose another profession since becoming a "musician" was an unrealistic goal.

I was astounded, not only because a teacher (not the most lucrative of professions to begin with -- full disclosure, I'm also a teacher) felt that becoming a "musician" was unrealistic, but also because the teacher deemed it appropriate to limit a student's ideas of what is possible. In a society where so many of our young people (particularly young men) are drawn to unsavory and delinquent pastimes, what could possibly be wrong with a student entertaining the idea of pursuing a life filled with music.

On the other hand:

I teach math at a community college, and most students have unrealistic career plans.

As an example, I recently had a class in which I was gathering statistics from students in order to demonstrate simple descriptive statistics, and realized that most of these people thought that they were going to make salaries in the 100K to 200K range right out of the gate with their two year degrees in things like social services and early childhood education. When questioned about their expectations, individually and privately, they pretty much all said that their parents told them that if they went to college, they would make three or four times the money that the parents had done. So they took their middle aged parents salaries, multiplied by four, and assumed that would be their starting salary. That was the total extent of their research. And if my college has career counselors, they are awfully low key, because I don't know about them, so I can't refer the students to someone else.

So I gave them a homework assignment to gather salary and benefit information about their expected field, find out about expected future openings, talk to people in the field about what people in that job actually do, gather information about apartment costs, how much their parents spend on groceries in order to estimate food costs, health insurance, car insurance, and so on in order to develop a future budget.

They were horrified. I had girls in my office in tears, upset parents on the phone going on about destroying dreams, and faculty in some of those fields upset with me and worried about their future enrollment if students found out how low the salaries and expected job openings were.