It’s that time of year again. Seventeen years of it, and it never gets old.
The students are a LOT younger than they used to be. At least that’s what I thought when I met with a group of student athletes last week to give them the low down on how NOT to mess up their first year of college.
My advice was pretty simple. I told them to go to class every day. To get to know their instructors and to be sure to visit them during office hours. I told them to sit in the first two rows of the classroom, to take notes, to be present and engaged. I told them to get enough sleep and eat their veggies and figure out how to get along with their roommates.
I explained that as part of the majority of students enrolled in colleges and universities with student loans that it is up to them, and only them, to determine whether or not they will get their money’s worth. That loans, like many things in life, are both a blessing and curse.
I’d love to be able to report that I saw the illumination of fifty tiny light bulbs above the heads of my audience as I handed out these pearls but I saw more yawning than flickering, I’m afraid. This is mainly because they are new at this game called College. They haven’t even been in a college classroom yet. They are in two a day practices with new team mates they’ve just met and are are miles (or states) away from everything and everyone familiar to them. They aren’t sure they’re sold on this thing called a college education. Yet.
It’s my job to clinch the deal and to guide them toward seeing themselves as scholars. I show them a backpack and explain that before they put one notebook or pen in it on the first day, they need to be aware of what they may also “carry” every day that no one sees. Things like attitudes about school and learning and masculinity and what it all means for them. How those things can get awfully heavy, even for a football player used to lifting weights.
I know from experience that they will miss class and make up lame excuses for doing so. I know that they will turn in bad essays that will need to be rewritten. I know that at least some of them will make some really poor choices and become their own worst enemy at least once this semester. But I also know that there will be growth and learning and small victories along the way for most of them.
They are football players. It’s what they love to do and where they feel most competent. I am a generation older and not a football player. But year after year, I suit up to do this job I love mostly because I remember what it was like to be that young, that scared, that unsure of what it meant to be in college at all. Because I’ve seen lives change when a student succeeds. Others just like them. Others just like me.
And because I know that teachers who can remember that matter. A lot. And that feeling? Of mattering?
It matters to me.