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Career Decisions at What Grade?

by Steve Smith, April 9, 2003


James Dobson said that the best piece of child-rearing advice he has heard (and he has heard a few) was this: “Don’t look for the person in your child too soon.” In other words, parents must not attempt to restrictively define who their child is before all the petals of this precious flower have unfolded.

I remember thinking that our middle child would be so easy to raise because of her sweet disposition as a baby. I was soon proved wrong by her incredible cranky two and three-year-old phase. Then, as we were settling in for a few years of protracted warfare, she began to become the peacemaker of the family. Lately, however, she has been turned on to kick-boxing.

As a high school teacher, I see new petals unfolding in your children all the time. I’ve seen gentleness unfold in “tough” basketball players. I’ve seen music and dramatic talent unfold in students I once thought artistically challenged. I even find math skills unfolding in kids who say “I can’t do math!” (and as a brand-new math teacher, I’ve unfolded a few of my own petals lately!)

But to balance this equation, we should realize that the other side of Dobson’s advice is also true: “It is unwise to leave looking for the person in our children too late.” Self-discovery is a life-long process, but the sooner we begin, the more fruitful the process will be. It is imperative that, as parents (more than teachers) we help our kids find a direction for their post-high school lives well before they reach Grade 12.

Too many of us are worried about “streaming” or “Coercing” our kids into career directions that might not be “right” for them. While there is some validity to this position, it is far more detrimental to students to arrive in Grade 12 with little idea of where the future will take them. A student who graduates having completed a year of plumbing apprenticeship is further ahead on the road of life (not least financially speaking) than a student who spends four years in philosophy classes trying to decide “who they are”. (Besides, the plumber can pay for his own philosophy degree later if he really thinks it’s that important! True story: my older brother did exactly this.)

This is where my “unfolding flower” analogy begins to break down. For unlike flowers, students don’t grow naturally “toward the light”. They need to be encouraged (fertilized?), nurtured (watered?), directed (staked?), and admonished (pruned?) if they are to become all that God intended. Children, as well as adults, should continually be growing mentally, spiritually and socially. We should be attempting new things, discovering God-given talents and working to improve those we have already recognized. Students should join a drama group, learn a computer program, or get automotive training. Yet we need to ensure they are clear on which of these gifts, skills and talents will be the ones they rely on to earn a living.

When it comes to career decisions, students need to begin making definitive choices by Grade 10 and committing themselves to a plan for their future. “Keeping my options open” is often an excuse for refusing to choose any option at all. It is my responsibility as a parent to ensure that my children can see a clear pathway to their working future.

Steve Smith