By: Heather O’Neill
I work in special education and I spend most of my days trying to build kids up. Trying to make them understand that what they view as the impossible is possible. Trying to give them a light at the end of a sometimes very long, very dark tunnel. And with one statement, one look, one devastating declaration, another adult can ruin all of my, and my colleagues’, work.
I witnessed a parent the other day tell her son that “College just isn’t an option for him. Never was. Never will be. It’s not in the cards for him.” Her son seemed to sink into his chair, shoulders rolled forward, head and eyes sunk to the floor. He seemed to believe that this was his reality.
My heart broke.
Is this the message that she is really sending to her son? Is this what we want our 14 year old freshmen to believe – that there is no hope for any future education after the next 4 years of their lives?
This particular parent was stuck in 1985 and her own experiences. She frequently referenced them. She had had a particularly difficult time in high school and did not explore any post secondary opportunities.
I tried to explain that “college” or the idea of college was very different today than when she graduated from high school.
- College does not mean you have to go to a 4-year school.
- There are 2-year programs out there.
- There are certificate programs.
- You don’t have to take a full course-load – you can start with one or two classes.
- It doesn’t have to be done in 4 years.
- You’re never too old to start taking classes.
I tried to open her mind. To open his eyes. To get them to see that there were possibilities for him. I’m not sure if I changed their minds that day, but I do know that I gave them something to think about.
And the next day I sat in another meeting where a parent told their child that “they didn’t have the skills to make it in college.”
As parents we need to build our kids up, not tear them down. They will do enough of that on their own. It blew my mind that these two very different parents would talk to their children this way, in a meeting full of educators who cringed at their statements.
If we don’t believe in our kids, who will? If we don’t teach them how to believe in themselves, how will they know? If we want our children to be successful we have to first believe that they can be and then show them that they can be.