Friday, August 16, 2013

What it means to be ready

In my job, I get to spend a lot of time with educators around the country. Small districts, large districts; rural, urban, suburban. You name it: the diversity of demographics is there. I'm with those folks because they are seeking professional development for Common Core or for College and Career (work place) Readiness.

Because of our high-stakes testing mentality, we worry about the test scores. Is the ACT score high enough to get into college? Is the GPA high enough to graduate with honors? Are there enough passing credits to graduate? Is the reading or math or science score high enough to keep us out of hot water with whatever agency is overseeing us? How do we rank against other schools in the district or, as a district, against other districts in the state?

And if our scores are high enough, our kids must be ready for college.

Maybe.

Every classroom teacher was once a college student. Every classroom teacher knows there are good professors and bad professors; they are even GREAT professors and terrible professors.

Anyone who has worked in a job knows there are good bosses and bad bosses, even great and horrible bosses.

So what does it mean to be "ready" for college or the work place? It's not just the grade or the score. We know that, but we can't forget that. We can't forget that fundamental skills in speaking and listening are critically important. Students must be able to express their ideas, provide rationale for their opinions or positions. I'm sure there is a list somewhere, but what we know is that employers are looking for people with good communication skills, the ability to reason analytically and critically, the ability to solve complex problems and to work as part of a team or to be sufficiently self-motivated to work alone. These are important life, college, and work skills.

It won't hurt if kids know how to be on time, know how and when to ask follow-up questions and that it's absolutely perfectly okay to use those office hours to get clarification on an assignment or to share an idea or to ask for some help or to ask an opinion or just to talk about the content. It won't hurt if kids know how to be respectful of others' opinions and ideas and to know how to say "please" and "thank you."

When we think about what it means to be ready for college or the work place, what we're really talking about, in my opinion, is what it means to be getting ready for life.

I've said before that a very wise administrator once said that university is not a parenthetic; it is not that "between time" that serves as a bridge from high school to the "real world." It can be a significant part of the growing up and character-building experience. In that sense, students are NOT ready for college in many ways and it behooves university professors to remember that they can be part of the growing and developing process, and that it can be an honor to make that kind of difference in a young person's life.

But it also falls to university faculty, in some ways, to help ensure that the growing up and developing does occur, that university faculty hold students to higher standards of expectations in the ways they comport themselves as persons and as students, even as scholars.

I'd also like to note, though, that we're never really ready. Not if we're lifelong learners. We leave high school with a certain set of proficiencies, capabilities, knowledge. We leave college with more of the same, we hope, and more. We enter the work world with more than we had and with less than we need. We proceed through the work world, perhaps into our chosen careers with more than we had and with less than we need.

As lifelong learners, we're always "getting ready" for the next big adventure in life, in work, in learning.

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