High School: The Edge of the Unknown

English: Harvard Yard. Photo taken by Dudeslee...

Harvard Yard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  There are 52 different colleges/universities within the beltway around Boston.

This summer I am teaching a College Discovery course for The Princeton Review.  In addition to the typical SAT prep information, I also get to teach college admissions and writing the application essay, which feeds directly into my interest and passion as a teacher.  I love it!

Not only is the content fun and interesting, I also have a great group of teens.  They’re intelligent without being “know-it-alls.”  They’re funny and easy-going, but still focused and attentive in class.  Many of them are international students, providing a depth of culture and perspectives that their American classmates have thoroughly embraced.  They work hard, do their homework, and aren’t afraid to joke around with me during class discussion.  In essence, I have my dream class for two weeks. I’m having a blast.

But teaching this class has reminded me again how unique the teen years are.  I stand in the front of the room looking over these 19 young men and women, and the sense of anticipation for the future is palpable.  Some of them have a good idea of what they want to study, but many of them have expressed that they don’t know yet where they will be and what they will be doing.  They don’t have any idea what direction their lives will take.  They are deep, creative thinkers.  They are passionate and ambitious.  But they’re sitting on the edge of a huge unknown, and the rest of their lives is in that void.  In response to a writing prompt, they expressed a sense of waiting in the dark for a future they can’t see yet.  I asked them to write about where they want to be in 10 years, and the responses I’ve received so far have a common theme.  In 10 years, they want to be established.  Most aren’t talking about money, titles, or specific career achievements.  They just want to be out of this state of limbo and be established adults in the world.  They want to know who they are going to be.  One girl said that she couldn’t see past the next two years, and she just wanted “a clear outlook,” while another young man’s sincerity was so clear when he said “I just want to know.”

I don’t think there’s another time in life that equals that level of anticipation for the unknown.  I remember what it was like back then.  I remember knowing that leaving home and moving away to college was my opportunity to find out who I was supposed to be.  As an adult I can look at those years as a time of enormous potential and opportunities – but the teens just want to know.  They are hungry for the future, for the knowledge of who they are going to become.

Can we help teens take advantage of that hunger?  Can they see that sense of the unknown as an advantage and a truly unique time in life?  What tools can we give them to help them process their thoughts, emotions, fears, and excitement? Because I don’t think I will soon forget the look of anxious anticipation in some of those students’ eyes as we talked about their futures.

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