There are a few reasons I prefer to teach juniors out of all the high school grades. For one, they’re noticeably more mature than their younger counterparts; they’re not suffering from senioritis (yet); they’re moving out of the egocentrism years and want to have real conversations. But the number one reason I enjoy juniors is this: it’s the year that real life hits them. I don’t mean it in a bad way; I mean it in the best way. This is when the “ah-ha” moments hit, and the epiphany that they will be applying for college THIS CALENDAR YEAR.
Yikes. Woohoo. All the feels!
That’s why, when we come back from Christmas break, we begin the semester with college and career research. This is usually my favorite part of the year. No one wants to come back from break, but the kids get into the spirit when they realize how relevant these two weeks will be. Because we’ve known each other since August, they are more comfortable asking “real” questions and sharing their stories. They bring their dreams, goals, and hardships to the table so we can sift through and try to figure out their future. I love that I can be honest with them, give them advice (that they actually listen to), and allow them to see that I do care about them. It’s easier to express ourselves and get to know each other better during this unit.
This year I added a new element to the unit, and it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in ten years of teaching (yeah, I went there).
I tracked down several graduates who had been through my English 11 class to see if they would be willing to talk to my kiddos about their experiences. I had several who were interested, but in the end, seven could make it. I had two community college students, five university students–one of who is an Army National Guardsman–all ranging from Freshman year to Senior year. Some had worked hard in high school; some hadn’t. Some were athletes; some were not. Some got scholarships; some didn’t. Some knew what they were going to do with their lives; some had no idea. It was a pretty good mix of kids who could speak to the different situations my current students are in.
|Students listen as alumni give them advice for the future|
It was a hit! I asked the students to fill out a form the next day, and the feedback was 98% positive. (I do have two current seniors and a couple seriously unmotivated students who weren’t too impressed, but I’ll take what I can get). And the best part was that afterwards my students had gained some real insight into their future. Several were convinced that community college was for them after speaking with the alumni; a couple were considering ROTC or National Guard as an option who hadn’t been before.
And it was SO GREAT for me to see past students! I bought them pizza for lunch and we got to hang out and catch up.
All in all, I am happy with the outcome. We finished up the unit looking at scholarship contests for our area and writing essays for the scholarship of their choice. They are for seniors only, but now they have a better idea of how to approach them and which scholarships are available to them. Next year, I plan to have students research scholarships and choose one they want rather than providing them with just two options.
If you’d like these materials, I’ve shared them as a Google doc below. The research is pretty straightforward, and several kids buckled down and used the time to dig into different options that they hadn’t explored. They were thankful for the time in class to research and discuss. This could totally be done with kids in other grades, but as I explained earlier, I think junior year is the best and most relevant time.
College and Career Research