The first rule of farming is to plant the seeds of the crop that you intend to grow. Admittedly, I am not a farmer, and in the interest of full disclosure, I don’t know the first rule of farming. However, if I was writing an idiot’s pamphlet to farming this would be in my top ten rules along with a serious discussion of composting. You may feel that this blog is already material worthy of composting. My response to that is: don’t be mean. Anyway, it stands to reason that the farmer who plants wheat and expects soy will always be disappointed. And so it goes with counseling. As this class prepares to graduate it’s time to stop and be aware of the seeds that you have sown. If you simply value prestige and a college list that makes you look good you may get just that; a beautiful case full of trophies. Hopefully, we are planting the seeds of fit, curiosity, courage and lifelong learning. By courage I mean the ability to see what’s right and then choose it, even when this choice may not be what is considered popular. This is the skill that causes a student to have the strength to choose the school that might be less “prestigious,” but that obviously fits. These are tools that will stand the test of time even as our ideas about the value of education and the ongoing cost analysis shifts.
It’s time for last words, commendations and parting shots. It’s important for counselors to dispense timely, relevant and correct information. But I think it’s even more important for students to know that someone has made an investment in them, believes in them, and most importantly, knows them. A student’s awareness of their worth and your belief in them will ripple far beyond what you even believe possible. One of the tricky things about this gig is that it is often about delayed gratification. I often find myself on an emotional roller coaster. This weekend is an extreme example. One of my former students has a preschool daughter enrolled in the school where my wife serves as principal. It is incredibly gratifying to interact with this person as a mom, as a professional, as an adult. Did I play a part in that? Maybe. I certainly had a front row seat for the process. On the other end of the spectrum one of my former students died unexpectedly this weekend. An unbelievably tragic and indescribably painful event for a family that will never be the same. Could I have stopped this? Probably not. But I promise that I will walk into my school tomorrow with fresh eyes. I want the way that I counsel to be a tribute to this student. I know that there will always be problems that I can’t solve. And in fact the list of problems that I can solve is fairly short. But I can always let a student know that I see them and that I’d like to know them. I can assure them of their ability to contribute and the chance to hit the reset button on mistakes that they may have made.
So, back to graduation. And, I guess, farming. What kind of seeds have you been planting. You still have time. It’s planting season and while there is no guarantee that you will see the harvest, it is a sure bet that you won’t grow the crops that you didn’t plant. Don’t let them go quietly. Use the influence that you have painstakingly earned. Encourage, challenge and tell the truth. In light of this weekend, I personally made a list of conversations that I need to have before graduation on Thursday.
I apologize that my last couple of blogs have been on the serious tip. This is my last piece for this space and I have hope that I have been able to add some levity to this process. I began back in October by saying that I love this work. In many ways my students are no different than my five year old. They look at you and say I’m not a kid. Never mind that when my daughter said that to me tonight she was missing two front teeth and had marshmallow all over her face. Our students look grown up and while the teeth may have grown in and they can now hopefully feel it when they have food on their face, their fears can be shockingly similar. They need our support, our guidance, our patience, our forgiveness and our honesty. Keeping in mind that honesty is most effective when a foundation of trust is there. At the risk of sounding self-important, you may be the only adult in their lives willing to say what needs to be said. Don’t miss the chance and cherish the opportunity.
By Jeff Morrow