Connie Evans changed my life.
I was 17, pondering college and majors and life in general. I was good at English, so with my limited life perspective, I decided I’d teach English. I mean, what else could I do?
Then Evans, my high school English teacher, said this: “Susan, don’t go into teaching because you love English.”
You teach because you love teaching, she added, not because you love the subject matter.
That scared me sufficiently to shift gears — did I really care about teaching reading and writing to students who hated it or didn’t ‘get it’?
For today’s teens, as it was then, trying to figure out what you want to be “when you grow up” is tough. You really don’t know about very many career options, other than what your parents do. You recognize professions like lawyer, teacher, or law enforcement, but you don’t really even know very much about what those people do, day in and day out.
I thought about Evans after visiting the Ohio Forestry and Wildlife Conservation Camp last week (the link takes you to my story and a video produced by Farm and Dairy’s Tracey Wardle).
That’s because in addition to teaching team building, tree identification and soil ecology, the adult instructors were also sharing career advice to the teen campers in a casual way. Opening young eyes to possibilities. Opportunities.
“Did you see the young man who came up to me after my session?” asked Jim Milhoan, a volunteer instructor from Carrollton.
The teen had asked Milhoan some questions about his portable sawmill and how he built his own home from wood logged from his tree farm. Then Milhoan, a retired engineer, asked the camper some questions of his own, about what he wanted to study in college.
“Civil engineering,” the young man replied.
Milhoan used his own engineering career to present a couple scenarios that this teen could be involved in, and problems he could help solve.
“I wish you could’ve seen his eyes,” Milhoan told me. “They just kept getting bigger and bigger, as if he’d never thought about the possibilities before him.”
Every youth needs an Evans or a Milhoan. Every youth could benefit from hearing from you, and I can think of no greater lesson you could share than the passion you each bear for your own life’s work.
Teens don’t listen to parents, we all know that. Mark Twain was right when he wrote: ““When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
I think it often takes another adult to leave a lasting impression upon a teen — an impression made either through conversations or through observing actions. And I also think we adults shirk that responsibility.
“Aw, I don’t have anything to say to them.” or “I’m just a _____; why would they want to listen to me?”
But to have an adult listen to them, is a powerful thing. Someone who’s not making judgment calls, or getting preachy, but listening, and then coaching, coaxing or suggesting.
Even the most outwardly self-confident teen is insecure and needs that support.
Look around you. There will be teens whose paths you cross, and it doesn’t matter if you know them well, like Evans, or don’t, like Milhoan. They need to hear your passion, and feel your spark — and even if you think you’re the most introverted person in the world, trust me, you have that spark. I know. I have seen it in many an eye, and heard it in many a voice.
Dean Sinclair might not have realized it, but his passion came through in his session on nonwood forestry products at the camp last week.
A wildlife and forestry specialist with the Washington Soil and Water Conservation District, Sinclair interspersed information about his career into his talk on goldenseal and ramps and hunting leases.
“I can do so many different things,” he told the teens. “Every day is different.”
“You’re not gonna get rich,” he told them bluntly, but he does it “because I love the outdoors.”
That’s all it takes to plant a seed. To change a life.