The Rudderless Ship

In the world of your average 8th grader, thinking any further ahead in time than “when’s lunch” or “is it 2:30 yet?” is a rare and beautiful thing.  Their lives are full of social interaction, general disgust with all things adult, and irritation at either having to take on responsibilities or being ignored by the one adult they want to pay attention to them.  I recall that year in my life quite fondly.  I was a jerk.

I was a jerk… with a plan.  I was blessed with parents who wanted more for me and set some goals for me.  I resisted with all my might, but in the end, I accepted the responsibility of preparing to leave the nest.  For a lot of my students, there’s no one in their lives to do that for them.  Well, there’s me.

Standing outside my classroom Wednesday afternoon was “Keith”.  He was talking to the reading teacher, my padawan.  He had been in full jerk mode all day and she had just about had it.  I walked up to the following conversation:

Padawan:  So, what’s your problem today?  You’re walking around here acting like suicide is painless and you can’t wait to try it.

Keith:  I’m mad.

Padawan: About?  Please use your words; string them into sentences.

Keith:  I checked my grades (report cards come out this week) and I have a couple of C’s and a D.

Padawan: Now, how on earth did THAT happen?

Keith:  I don’t know?!?!  “Ya’ll” trying to flunk me!

I stopped him there.  Nothing burns my butt more than the “it’s your fault” excuse.  We both, as calmly as possible, reminded him that we weren’t in the 8th grade performing poorly, but we were simply the facilitators of his learning experience and his grades are a reflection of his participation in that experience.  In other words, “you do no work, you get big fat zero in gradebook”.

Keith was the “star” of the football team this season.  Several touchdowns under his belt, rushing stats that would make a high school coach whistle.  Usually, the day after a game, he’d stay home, either to nurse some ache or pain or to bask in his own glory.  When he showed up to school the day after a game, he was way too busy being “loved to death” by the girls and “worshipped” by the boys to do any real learning.  It all caught up with him in the grade department. We pointed this out to him and the little light started to glimmer.

I then asked the question:

So, do you have a plan for high school and beyond? Cus, if this is going to be your M.O., you’re going to be on the struggle bus.

He didn’t have a plan.  Yeah, football and basketball in high school (although, he also found out  on Wednesday that he DIDN’T make the basketball team), maybe a college scholarship, but beyond the glories of sports and being too fabulous for real life, he didn’t have a clue. I thought about that this morning.  Keith is floating along, as most middle schoolers do, in a rudderless ship.  He needs a plan.

It’s time for the 5 year plan to go into full effect.  Every person, regardless of age, academic status or ability, needs a 5 year plan.  This plan is a perpetual updating of your goals as you move through life.  We start by considering what we want to do in 5 years.  For this bunch, that would put them the semester right after graduating from high school (if they manage to do that in a timely manner).  There are at least 20 students I can name right now that have a very definite idea of what they will be doing 5 years from now.  One wants to be in his second year of college (yeah, he is already on his way to finishing high school early; we’ve begun the double promotion paperwork to move him to 9th grade in January,  He wants his PhD in Civil Engineer by his 23th birthday.  THIS ONE has a 10 year plan).  Another wants to learn auto mechanics and hopefully begin working on cars right after high school.  We can help make that happen for him. A few others are considering college or the military.  Two have already begun honing their entrepreneurial skills and will be taking them to the next level by then.  They all have inklings of plans and recognize they have to do well in the classroom to make their dreams come true.

Having a 5 year plan  helps students visualize their lives and gives them direction. A rudderless ship only flounders  and spins after all.  We see the results of that on the evening news every single night, don’t we? Setting goals puts a rudder on that ship.  Then all the “captain” needs is a navigator or two to help him/her to get to the destination.

We’re going to fix Keith’s rudderless ship, starting next week.  There is no reason why he can’t be so much more in the world than what is expected of him.  He senses that about himself, and now he knows that someone else sees it in him.

Ship builders in the classroom.  Imagine that.


How do YOU help children get ready to go forth and be amazing?