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What do you see?

“I’m just curious why you are always late to class”, I said. Eric was not known for being to class on time. My exasperated student summoned as much courage as he could and said, “I can’t help it. Your class is too early in the morning. I really am trying!”

We got along fine, but we went back and forth throughout the year, and things didn’t change too much. The fact that the class was first period chemistry only made matters worse for someone who might be described as the ‘anti-math.’ We did spend some time during the year with some one-on-one tutoring, which seemed to help. But, sometimes, a teacher never really gets the feeling that the lesson sunk in.

Andrea had a slightly different situation. You would think someone with as much recognition and leadership as this athlete might be more decisive. You would expect someone with more conviction in herself. I often shook my head with concern. I remember telling Andrea, “You have the ability. You have the grades. But, you walk around as though you are uncertain of your next step.” There were times in lab when she would stop in her tracks, not quite knowing what direction to follow. She honestly didn’t know why she often hesitated in making decisions, especially on short notice.

If Eric was ‘anti-math,’ Carter was even more ‘anti-chemistry.’ With all of the stories that come with a class like chemistry, you would think Carter would have backed out of taking the class. “You hate chemistry. Why are you doing this to yourself?” I asked one afternoon. “No offense, but you and chemistry don’t get along. At all.” Carter’s only reply was, “I don’t know.” But, he did manage to pass the course with a respectable grade with some persistence on her part and a lot of creative teaching on my part.

One of my favorite stories is Jessica. All someone had to do was to confront her, and she would generally shut down. Not completely, but generally. It took a while to get ideas and opinions out of her. There were times when her arguments were not quite clear, and other times they were as clear as black or white. The problem was getting her to share her thoughts. She handed them up as though she didn’t want to claim ownership.

Here’s the thing: If someone asked me take a guess on which careers Andrea, Eric, Carter, and Jessica would find in life, I would have been wrong. Dead wrong.

These four students, and many others, have taught me that just because teachers don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. We don’t always see that glimmer of talent or that motivation in a student that tells us how things will turn out when they ‘grow up.’ In fact, these four students have found careers that almost seem to be on the opposite side of the spectrum from the person they seemed to be during their high school days. Their stories are also reminders that teachers and other adults holding a crystal ball might be wise to keep their predictions to themselves.

Eric managed to pull it together. How so? By earning a doctorate degree, and working as an expert in his field. Apparently, tardiness to an early morning chemistry class is not an indicator of the ability to earn a Ph.D.

Andrea has become a member of the medical profession, and her job requires her to make critical judgments on a daily and hourly basis. It looks to me as though the ability to make solid decisions does not completely establish itself when we are teenagers in a chemistry class.

Carter’s career is one that requires his sound judgment and a strong understanding of the physiology and the workings of the eye. Carter discovered somewhere along the line that not having a total grasp of chemistry is not a barrier to holding a medical degree.

Jessica has essentially become a guardian and protector of the less fortunate and the weak. Her job requires her to put herself in some difficult and threatening situations. But, she has discovered that bearing the shield that protects those in need has given her the courage of her convictions.

As an adult, how would you change the way you talked with someone if you knew that the 17 year old you were talking to was going to become your attorney someday? What if that silly 16 year old girl in your class becomes a business owner in the future? Is it possible that the average kid you call ‘Josh’ will someday become the person you will someday call ‘Doctor’?

A crystal ball isn’t all that it’s made out to be, so let’s not rely too much on what we see today. Perhaps the best thing we can do for some of our students is get out of there way.

One other thing. The next time I hear an adult say, “Kids these days don’t take their future seriously”, I’m probably going to throw my crystal ball in their lap.

-By Chuck Benway, Lunch Bunch Co-creator

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