Recently I was speaking with a 12th grader, who really should be in college or trade school already. However, he still doesn’t know what career to pursue and doubts that he has what it takes to achieve success. In fact, he wonders if he is worth achieving any success.
He is not the only one. Many of my students seem to lack identity and purpose. They don’t know what to do with their lives. They haven’t dreamed about the future, a career, future family, etc. Others have inflated dreams like being a rapper, professional athlete or famous actor. Yet those students often don’t participate in activities that will help them build the skills and develop the notability they need to enter these fields. For example, I have many students who want to play professional basketball in the NBA, but have not even tried out for the school basketball team in all four years of high school. So why do our students seem to go from one extreme to the next? Why do some have unattainable dreams, while others have none at all? What is our role as educators in helping our students realize their strengths and weaknesses, their skills and natural talents?
These abilities and competencies may be hard for students to uncover on their own and aren’t usually the skills that people rave about. It is important that we begin to call out those hidden abilities in our students. By that I mean, when we see our students utilize or display certain skills, we should affirm them. This not only allows the student to become aware of his/her gift, but helps to build self-efficacy. We gleefully applaud our students who can sing, dance, are highly intellectual or athletic but fail to affirm the average student. So, let us take notice and be intentional about letting students know that their organizational and time management skills are irreplaceable assets in the workplace. Let students know that their charismatic personality and kindness towards others are invaluable when dealing with people, whether superiors, clients, peers, or those they lead. Let students know that their attention to detail can help them plan and execute events. There are numerous other talents and skills that are too many to mention here, but I encourage us to become more astute at recognizing hidden talents and how they are beneficial.
Students need us to help them recognize their skills and talents and how those skills are applicable in the world of work. They often don’t realize the worth of what they take for granted or view as insignificant. They don’t know they possess valuable skills and talents that can help point them to their purpose. When we call out those skills we can also mention careers that are aligned with them. This makes it tangible for students. Encourage students to read or watch videos about these careers to help stir some passions, desires and dreams that they can turn into attainable goals. There are virtual career exploration websites that they can use. This is especially helpful for visual learners and reluctant readers. They don’t need to have it all together yet, they just need to begin dreaming.
When students have realistic dreams and goals, they do much better socially and academically. Eventually many will achieve more than they dreamed of. As we plant the seeds of hope, dreams and goal setting, and continue to water them with love and compassion, God will shine on them and cause them to flourish in the lives of our students.
The scripture exhorts, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:6-7).
In this passage Paul writes to Timothy, his protégé—his student—encouraging him to not let his youth hinder him from living out the call God has on his life. Paul sets an example of how we should mentor those we lead. Though this passage was focused on ministry and the spiritual gifts given uniquely to believers, we can apply Paul’s example to the broader context of education today. God has given unique talents and abilities to all of our students, and as they go out into the world we want them to be productive, well rounded and upstanding people who use their skills and abilities to benefit others.
What we write on their hearts with our words in the power and love given to us by God, will push them forward in recognizing the strengths, and great qualities within them.