A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 23 2012

The Meaning of a High School Diploma

I’ve been away from this blog for a bit. I’m making that final push at the end of my first year of law school. Classes are over and my first exam begins within 48 hours. But I wanted to share something.

As I was studying today, I received a phone call from BO. It was the first time I’d heard from her since she graduated last June. As my memories of the classroom rushed back, I remembered that BO was, at times, more unruly and unpredictable than I’d liked. I recalled occasions where she’d refused to follow along in class, claimed I was a terrible person, stormed out of my classroom–you name it. Eventually, we’d come to terms, but then the next cycle would begin. She was a thorn in my side.

I’d worked with BO, on and off (her attendance was spotty), over the previous two years and slowly discovered the obstacles in her life. She had many. Needless to say, getting her to the point where she could graduate was a challenge, requiring teachers and staff to pull all kinds of strings. When she walked across the stage last summer, I couldn’t have been happier. She’d made it. Or so I thought.

BO is not in college. She’s trying to go. BO is jobless. She’s now looking for work. But she doesn’t know what a resume is. Which is why she called me.

Her request caught me off guard. But I did my best to help. I explained to her the primary purpose of a resume. I asked her questions to see if she’d had any relevant work experience or skills that she could highlight. She said she had nothing to add. But I found out she’d volunteered at Rock Creek Park one summer. I told her to include that as relevant work. I knew she was a visual learner, so I told her I’d track down some examples of simple and effective resumes and send them to her. She told me about the range of jobs she was considering, but that each employer had requested a resume. I sent her off to make a resume and get back to me with a draft. After hanging up, I sat in my chair, stunned.

How did this happen? How could an education system let a student graduate high school without knowing what a resume is? This is a question with an answer too complex to answer in a blog post (and in the midst of exams).

At the very least, however, I think that this illustrates how important it is to consider what a high school diploma actually means for many of our nation’s students. For many (hopefully most), it means a gateway to college, or to employment. For others, like BO, it means very little–or perhaps nothing. And that’s a sad statement on the state of public education.

(I have a guest post in the works from someone who is doing great things in the related space of college readiness. Look for that after exams are over and I get my life back.)

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5 Responses

  1. This hits really close to home. The school I teach at used to be two separate academies until this year, and one of them wasn’t accredited, so half of the seniors graduating this year will receive a diploma that is literally meaningless. That’s on top of the fact that they wouldn’t be prepared for college, even if the academy had been accredited. Sad.

  2. first year math

    I TOTALLY understand and have been thinking about this all year during my first year…what should having a high school diploma really mean, especially for the students we teach? A very important discussion…

  3. Array | MeInfoBlogger.com linked to this post.

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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