Importance of Open Dialogue: College

Friday the faculty and staff at my school had a special “School Pride Day.” Usually on Fridays we show our school spirit and pride by wearing our high school’s colors or apparel. This Friday was different, we were showing spirit and pride in the colleges or universities we have attended for undergraduate, graduate, and even a few doctoral degrees. So, without questions I was there in my favorite Saint Michael’s College hat and sweatshirt. The sweatshirt I purchased the day I visited campus and interviewed for acceptance, eight years ago this coming January (time flies).

The goal of this day was to help promote dialogue between students and teachers regarding higher education. To help increase awareness of more opportunities for continued education beyond the local colleges students are aware of. The target audience for these conversations was mostly juniors and seniors, those who are much closer to the process, but it was not limited to just those classes.

For me personally, and I’m sure many teachers out there,  one of the fears I had about opening up dialogue regarding college is that the conversation would instantly turn to topics like partying and drinking. Topics that juniors and seniors are curious about, but most likely have a skewed perspective on thanks to movies and the media. For me it came down to making sure the conversation happens in an appropriate manner, appropriate for school and between teacher and students, but also allows for a more accurate vision of what college means.

When my class of juniors and seniors arrived, toward the end of the day, the the first thing they said to me was that they hadn’t really talked with any other teachers about college. One student even said “I don’t think they got the point.” This motivated me to make sure I had a good, open, conversation with these 14 students, all but 1 being seniors. So, I opened the dialogue by asking for their questions about college. I chose a girl with her hand raised, who I knew would have an serious question to start us off:

“What was the hardest part of college?”

My brain instantly knew the answer, and as I formed my thoughts I knew this would be a perfect way to address what they were all dying to know, on my terms.

I responded that the hardest part of college was finding balance. Balancing academics, with the social aspects. In college it was a lot easier to find ways to distract yourself, procrastinate, or blow off work all together. It’s easy to do other things besides academics, with all of your friends living within a square half-mile or so, along with the fact that parents aren’t there to make sure you are doing your homework or studying, and that professors aren’t going to track you down at the end of class to let you know what late work you are missing.

As I elaborated on these ideas I was able to describe how I wasn’t a “nerd in the library every night” (their words), I made the best friends anyone could ask for and we made some great memories*, but I was also successful academically. We continued the conversation for close to 30 of the 42 minutes of the period. They continued to ask great questions about financial aid, where else I applied, how I chose Saint Mike’s. I didn’t end our discussion until I could tell it had transition into: now let’s just use up the rest of class.

After the class ended I felt good about our conversation. Students had questions answered, by someone still close to my own time in college, and it was a candid conversation. Most of all I feel like I was able to paint a portrait of college beyond that of Animal House and American Pie. I think by avoiding these conversations, just because they might be uncomfortable, it continues the problem. Instead, we should find ways to have these conversations in a manner that is honest and responsible.


*I dedicate this post to the gentlemen of 403 and Club Drome. Friends I’ll never forget.