10 March 2009


Tomorrow is my second day teaching high school.

Okay, not entirely - it's a once-a-week gig for the next seven weeks, one class every Wednesday morning. A Junior Achievement pilot program called "Real Jobs, Real World," intended to introduce high school freshmen to the concept of career planning.

I'm thinking back to when I was 14, like most of these kids, and my brain is going off in 19 directions. (Nothing new there.) The main ones: (1) Who cares about planning anything at 14? (2) I wish someone had told me 40 years ago that a plan might help. (3) I wonder if I'd have listened. (4) Probably. I was dumb enough to listen when they said I should forget being an architect because I was no good at math.

Last week, I blew the curriculum all to hell. We were supposed to focus on how you need to go to college, although trade school is okay and graduating high school is okay, but you need to go to college, and by the way, only about one-third of one-third of one-third of Kentucky high school students will even make it to their second year in college, and incidentally, you can't bomb out like that, because you'll never get the career you want if you do. To which I said ...

Never mind. This is a family blog. I won't tell you exactly what I said. My meaning was, essentially, "What a crock of crap."

Yes, the statistics are true. What they leave out, though, are the very things that 14-year-olds won't be able to "abstract out" (as my old friend Bill used to say). First, there's no such thing as an "average" student. Everyone is different, and there is no norm. Second, if there were such a thing, it wouldn't look like you. And third, anyone who tries to tell you that your dream is unattainable is The Enemy. Trust no one who tries to take your dreams away from you.

So I followed the curriculum outline, but I don't think my class of 21 heard much of it. What they heard - over and over - was if you don't have passion for what you're doing, you're wasting your time and making your life miserable, whether you realize it or not. And follow your dream - success is a lot more than what kind of car you drive or how many bathrooms you have in your house. And I don't care where you live or what your family is like or what anyone else has told you - you can have any dream you're willing to work for.

I did also say that having a plan helps - that it took me 30+ years to attain my dream because I didn't plan for it - and that it's also a good idea to have a Plan B, so you can keep the lights on, the cable working, and ice cream in the freezer while you're working on Plan A.

Somewhere in there - I think while getting sidetracked by a young man who speaks Albanian at home and a bilingual Hispanic young woman - I also mentioned Dr. Ricky L. Jones, head of the Pan African Studies program at the University of Louisville. None of the kids had heard of Dr. Jones, so I gave them a thumbnail sketch of his bio. (If you're interested, google him. Good story. Also an excellent writer and an engaging speaker, not to mention a rabble-rouser par exellence, which for a Question-Authority Mama like me is the finest kind!)

This week will be a little closer to the book. We have videos of employers in the immediate area, and we're supposed to talk about what you can do close to home. And we will.

But I'm also going to send them to their next class with a copy of my IDP (Individual Development Plan), which aligns my professional goals and personal dreams and enlists my workplace manager and others to help me accomplish both, and an interview with Dr. Jones from the Courier-Journal a couple of years ago. I want these kids to see what dreams can do for you if you work your plan.

I wish someone had shown me that.

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