Some of the best advice I have ever received has come from the many teachers, professors, bosses and co-workers I have learned from throughout my educational and professional journey. From advice on teaching and coaching, to how to weather the inevitable ups and downs of life, I have taken their advice and keep it close. Contemplating this over my years of teaching, I decided to start offering my own advice to senior students on their last day of high school. Usually through tears, more from pride than sadness, I deliver a short speech that involves mostly advice on how to enter the adult world while continuing to learn and grow as they move forward. Here are the four things on which I place the most value during my last moments with my students:
1. Slow down and listen. Take time to listen to those who have a story to tell. In this age of “busyness’' and rushing around, slowing down to hear an older person's story about the past or listen to family members talk about their life has the ability to transform our thinking and outlook on life. Listening to someone else tell a story can have such an impact on how we see the world, reminding us that we are not the center of the universe, and increase our awareness of what others have been through.
2. Do the right thing, even when no one is watching. I was once told by a friend that when you do something, anything, there’s the potential for three people to be affected by it. Someone could see and tell their friend or spouse. Someone else could see and then be motivated to do the same and then another sees them, and so on and so on. Picking up trash that isn’t ours, helping someone return their cart to the corral, and of course the many other small things that can be so simple to carry out but make a huge difference with very little effort. Not only are we setting a good example for others watching, we are doing something positive for others and the world around us.
3. Work hard always. Admittedly, this advice is the hardest for them to hear. They’ve suffered through two semesters of English with me, listened to my rants on proper grammar and dangling participles, and have just taken some of the hardest final exams of their high school career. They are tired and have the worst “senioritis’' there is. Yet, when I talk about the pride that comes from knowing they have tried their absolute best without taking shortcuts, I hope they hear me. Having learned from my grandparents and parents the value of hard work, coupled with my intention to raise a daughter who understands this as well, I am hopeful that they come to respect themselves for their work ethic and feel pride in the things they work hard to accomplish. (Hearing back from students who are excited to share their successes as evidence of their own hard work is one of the best feelings for me!)
4. Treat people well. In friendships, relationships and at work, be fair and communicate well. Have the courage to tell the truth if you mess up and reflect on how to be better next time. Do not be opportunistic or use people only for what they can do for you. Similarly, be firm in your own boundaries with others. I firmly believe in the idea that if we give good, good will come back to us.
And while there are many other things I wish my students to take with them as they move forward in their lives and continue to learn and grow, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share these four and hope to hear back from them as they fulfill their dreams and celebrate their successes.
• Bethany Zavada is a resident of Streator and English teacher at Putnam County High School. She loves to geocache with her family, cuddle her three adorable dachshunds and all things Harry Potter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.