Almost two years ago, I accepted a position that would completely change my life. That, of course, was becoming a College Adviser for the National College Advising Corps. In this position, we help high schools by cultivating honest relationships with students while giving them resources to help them make post-secondary decisions. This position is separate from being a guidance counselor or just a mentor. We are proactive and very intentional about how we advise students. We don’t wait for them to need us. We find them and make them feel listened to and cared about. We are with them every step of the way as they figure out what they want to do after high school. This role is imperative for students who are low-income, minorities or potential first-generation college students.
When I started this job, I was fairly nervous. I wasn’t sure how students would respond to me since I never been one to try to impress people, especially children. I knew I could only be myself. Within time, I definitely won them over. I was surprised at how much these students grew on me and how much I cared for them. I knew it would happen, but not to this extent. Being a recent college graduate, I was pretty burnt out. Serving in this role was exactly what I needed to get my “mojo” back.
Working for UGA is Awesome
Although I work for a national nonprofit organization, I was employed by the University of Georgia, the state’s flagship university. Being able to get a small experience of Athens during the summer and on occasion when we had training was exciting. This was my first time being connected with a university with a diehard fanbase and being in a college town. Also, this was my first experience working a job with actual benefits. Not only did we get a small discount for games, the healthcare and other benefits that I really took advantage of.
Although my alma mater was not UGA, I felt very welcomed from other employees who did attend UGA. I was pleasantly surprised considering some are real diehard fans and UGA is all they have ever known. From my supervisors and admin team to dining hall employees, I really enjoyed every UGA employee I came in contact with.
Most Parents are Detached from Their Child’s Reality
One of the biggest problems I had to face in this position was engaging parents and family members in their student’s lives at school. The majority of parents at my high school know little about what happens while their child is at school. Communication is two-way. The school cannot always be solely responsible for initiating communication. It’s important that you know your child’s teachers, foster a relationship with them and show up to the school when you can.
Parents are their child’s first teacher. Some lessons are intentional, some aren’t. Students learn how to interact with others and solve problems based on how their parents deal with them. I dealt with too many parents who were just completely detached from anything their child was doing at school. Grades, Behavior and Post-secondary plans are just not important to some parents. So these things become less important over time to the child. Of course, this is not true for everyone, but I’ve encountered students who have told me that their parents have never asked them what they wanted to do after they graduate. We have few parents to our parent-focused events at night and during the school day. It just simply disappoints me how some parents could care less about their child when they’re not at home. I believe this is partly why some students aren’t engaged at school. Because no one besides the school expects them to be.
Directly Helping Others is Self-Rewarding
This is where I get really sappy. Brace yourselves. My absolute favorite part of my job was having students come into my office and give me some good news. Whether it was a college acceptance, improved test score or just getting to pass a class, I would be so happy to receive a genuine “thank you” from them. I could see firsthand how they were becoming successful in something they cared about. How could that bring a smile to your face knowing that you played a part in their happiness? There are times where I could have burst into tears. Sometimes I felt I was more happy for my students than they were.
I had a student this year who was battling homelessness. He was behind in all of his classes and it showed in his grades. He was discouraged and for a moment thought he was going to drop out of school because he was so overwhelmed. He came to me in confidence and I helped him have conversations with his teachers about his situation. After a lot of one-on-one conversations, he was able to make a full turnaround. He will be graduating this attending college in the fall. I truly cannot express how much joy it brings me that he didn’t give up on himself. He has made me so proud. He will be a first-generation college student. I am confident that he will continue to make us all proud.
Young People in Education are Heavily Needed
As a Black man, I’m typically used to being a minority when I walk into a room. I was shocked when I realized that I was literally the youngest person working at my high school. For the CAC, this was intended for us to be close in age with our students, but it was awkward nonetheless. I felt the faculty and staff didn’t always take me as serious as they would if I was older. Sometimes I would get frustrated in trying to execute an event or some other initiative because I would be questioned as if I was a student, not a professional. My experience would often be challenged. After I could prove myself through yielding good results, people started being less condescending towards me.
On the other hand, my students really valued that I was closer in age to them. I definitely could relate to them more. We still shared some of the same interests in music and pop culture. I used this to my advantage when I advised them. Some students felt more comfortable around me because they didn’t see me as another one of the adults in the building. They looked up to me, but not too far up. They had respect for the fact that I was a college graduate and I was there to help him in whatever way they needed. Towards the end of the year, students would love to come to my office to try to just talk about anything and everything. College was definitely a part of the conversation, but I really got to know them. For some, I was the only person in the building that had that type of relationship with. I think we could see a lot of positive change in our high schoolers if more of us would take on careers in education at a younger age. Having a near-peer mentor could make a ton of difference in the younger generation.
Educational System is Broken
I don’t think I need to give a full depth explanation of how broken the educational system is. I will give my perspective on a few things. These days, so much of school funding is based on standard tests and other benchmarks that don’t always accurately represent the potential and intelligence of students. If a school is pressed for funding, they will focus solely on getting higher scores so the school can continue to operate. However, high school is more than just academics. This is where children get to develop skills they will need when they go out into the world. Extracurricular and co-curricular activities are imperative for making students well-rounded individuals. As a community, we need to continue to invest in public schools. These need to balanced into the daily curriculum.
Our students need to have great social skills, a strong work ethic and the ability to solve their own problems. They learn this outside of the classroom. If you’re a parent, require your child to be a part of 2-3 activities. These shouldn’t just be things that align with their career goals, but things that they’re passionate about and/or something just for fun. Also, invest in resources at public schools. Instead of out-sourcing tutors, counselors and other resources, focus on improving what is offered at your school. Everyone in that building is there to help. They get better when the community is involved. The first step is improving your local public schools. Then, we can restructure the entire educational system to help build better citizens, not just students. Point. Blank. Period.
With all of the highlights and pitfalls I encountered, I loved being a College Adviser. Helping and serving my community has made an impact on me as well as others. I also made a network of other recent college graduates who had a background similar to mine. I leaned on so many of them to keep me moving forward when I felt discouraged. I look forward to seeing and hearing my students successes. I believe each of my students has something special to offer the world, even if they haven’t realized it yet.
What did your first job teach you?