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We Need More Student Voice

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

One of my favorite people in the world, Jen Williams, shared an article today called From a Rising Senior to Her Teachers: Things to Never Say or Ask About College written by a high school student named Audrey Mullen. I’m not going to lie, as the mom of a child who was once a high school senior, and several children who will one day be high school seniors, I was a little taken back at first. Mostly because in glancing through the article, I had asked those questions not only my own children, but several friends’ kids as well, and I thought, “I was just trying my best to talk to teenagers!” (which Ms. Mullen addressed in the post when she said, “What seems like innocent small-talk to you unleashes a tidal wave of insecurities and stress for us.”). Ok, ya got me.

In reading closer, there were two parts of the post that Ms. Mullen struck me with that as an educator made me both cringe and smile. Two areas where I said, whoa, this kid gets it. The first:

Dreaded Question #2: “What do you want to study?” Most of us shrug and say, “I’m not sure yet” with a forced laugh. Even the students who seem to have their lives together really don’t. We spent the past four years forced to take classes for credits, not on learning but rather getting an A. How are we supposed to know what we truly like? Does an A in Chem mean we should go pre-med?

They spent the last four years making sure they had their credit requirements, and figuring out what they needed to do for each teacher in order to get the grades needed to get into college. We spend so much time on making sure that kids are college and career ready, that we forget to help them figure out their passions. If our students cannot answer the question, “What are you passionate about?” when they graduate, we have absolutely failed them. Good grades in a specific content area don’t equal interest. It may simply state that area comes easier than others for the student, but certainly does not necessarily equate to passion.

I’m not going to lie, this kind of thing breaks my heart for my kids, mostly because I want kids to spend their adult lives doing what they love because I know what it’s like to work in a profession that I am passionate about. Success is not measured by how much money we make or how quickly we get a job. It is measured by how happy we are doing what we love. So many people spend way too much of our adult life trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up. If we spent more time in school trying to help kids find their passions, we might not have so many adults disliking their jobs.

Ms. Mullen goes on to say:

Dreaded Question #3: “What did you get on the SAT/ACT?” I have a friend with a 4.6 cumulative GPA who got a 1200 on the SAT. How does someone so exceptionally successful in class get such an average SAT score? The answer is simple: standardized testing is not an accurate representation of college readiness and shouldn’t be such a major factor in the college application process. Most teachers already know this. So when it comes to SAT scores, don’t go there. Just assume we’re all perfect.

For the last few years, I have been touring college campuses with my son. I would love to say that the college application process is standardized and considers the whole child. That’s not true. We learned that some schools have a fairly comprehensive, whole child approach, but we still found that there were some schools that still fell back on a very literal calculation of numbers in order to determine admittance. If the number came in within a range, they were admitted. And this wasn’t some back-woods school, but a Division 1, well respected university.

But, what really struck me about this paragraph was that we do things in education that we know don’t work and we continue to do them anyway. We know that standardized testing is unreliable, we say that out loud, but we use it anyway to make educational decisions for students. My own kids were put into certain english and math classes in middle school, which determined their trajectory in those areas for the rest of middle and high school, based a large part on how they did on standardized tests. If we want different results from what we are doing now, we need to match what we say with what we do.


What we need the most, is more students like Ms. Mullen who are willing to put themselves out there and help us adults understand what they need. I loved how she not only provided the issue with what was happening, but gave suggestions on how adults could ask different questions that would help high schoolers feel more comfortable in these conversations. Moreover, we (adults) need to give these kids the respect they deserve by listening to their voice.



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