Since this topic spans an immensely broad spectrum, we’ll begin at a single point and follow the thread that leads through the winding path that students of the teen years face. As teachers of classes that offer instruction in the five basic subjects needed for students to obtain a HSE (High School Equivalency) diploma, we were once given a survey to pass on to our students. The survey, issued by a Dutchess County, NY support organization*, was designed to explore the stresses, wishes, and direction of local teens in order to better know how to support them.
Though focused on education and entry into the workforce, the survey asked many questions relating to teen practices and to their mental and emotional state.
1. Top three topics not available in my school but I would like to take:
2. What are the top three things that cause you the most stress?
3. How do you deal with stress? Pick your main way:
4. How does this solution work for you?
5. What issues face you today and do you feel that they are fixable or not fixable?
6. What would you most like to change about yourself or your life?
7. Who do you consult for information on: [specific list of options is presented]
8. Short-term goals – select the column for each item that best fits your attitude.
Each of the above questions then offered a list of possible responses to the query. Example:
Question #2 What are the top three things that cause you the most stress?
Feeling like a failure
Students who filled out these survey forms did not place their names on the pages, they remained anonymous. The responses that students recorded varied widely, as they each were facing a different life, within different circumstances. However, a particular response did stand out as the one that nearly every student agreed upon – found within question # 6
6 “What would you most like to change…?”
Overcome my fears
Become more confident
Discover my purpose
Get a (better/new) job
Have stronger friendships
Do better in school
Find a partner
Get on better with my family
What do you expect to be the universal response the students selected, out of all of the questions and their respective responses? What would be your response to this survey question – now and when you were a teen?
For these students the answer was “Discover my purpose”. These simple three words carry much weight with them, for they ask about something that is difficult to define, to carve into words, yet something that burrows deep into a person and can gnaw at our attention and our well-being.
Purpose will hold different value and meaning for different people. Purpose shifts for an individual as he matures through various stages of life and as a result of his experiences. Yet, some areas of purpose may not shift along with experiences but be more like a thread following a particular unrelenting path. This search for purpose may continue to grow and deepen for the life of a person.
Some individuals will be happy to find a niche where they are comfortable, according to their own criteria, while others will search for a life-time for enhanced purpose in their lives. Yet something was driving all of these students to zero in on a common wish – to find their purpose. Something clearly was missing for them. Perhaps a way to simply start the process of discovering or developing purpose would be enough of a guide for students. So how might we, as teachers, bring this about?
Rather than describe specific journeys that I have made in the fields of discovery and purpose, or presume to offer precise paths forward, I’ll present a few points of perspective that will hopefully spark further perspectives in the reader. Again, when there is a start, further steps may make themselves clear to the person who is looking. We begin with some basic considerations about purpose.
Levels of purpose:
-Basic biological growth
-Regeneration and support of family
-To learn and to mature – physically, mentally, emotionally
-Discover skills & talents(as with math, writing, communication w/ individuals or groups, communicating with animals, ability to build – to work with mind and hands)
-Uncover strengths & abilities (as to adopt a neutral perspective, ability to unite and to lead, to assess & express what is seen, to refine & to interconnect one’s abilities…)
-To take part in the surrounding social fabric in a healthy way, expanding this along with expanding maturity
-To understand oneself in regards to abilities and strengths
-To understand oneself in regards to social ability and responsibility
-To understand oneself in regards to deeper purpose and position within the fabric of humanity
-To help move others forward along with oneself – service
-To serve that which is best, healthiest, highest for the greatest common-good
Where can we, as teachers, fit into these processes? Where do we see ourselves – where can we help our students?
Caution: attempts at help can be approached from varied positions (and agendas) and produce quite different results.
In an effort to help a student “fit” comfortably into society and to make useful contributions, the help could take the form of support and helping the student to find within herself what is of value, or the goal could be accomplished by discipline and strict rules. While approaches will need to be fit to some extent to each individual, the overall approach can range from soft guidance to harsh control. In each case there might be an acceptable positioning of a student into their community, yet the quality of what is brought by the student can vary from basic adherence to societal norms, to widespread significant service and inspiration to others. We as teachers can make a difference.
Yet first, or simultaneously, we might attempt to grapple with the clarification of what our own purpose is – as a teacher and as a person – and to do this as consciously as possible. Then we will have first-hand experience to share about what the process is like, and details about the effort. We don’t need to have it all figured out (if it was even possible), but we do need to immerse ourselves in the effort and experience. Then we can give guidance .
Reference here is made to DC-WIB survey (Dutchess County Workforce Investment Board)
The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 (Public Law 105-220)