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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I'm sure that we were all asked that question during our childhood. And, if you've become a parent, I'm positive that at some point in time you've asked that question of your children. Certainly, if you're an educator you been involved in discussions related to that very same question.

Learners in our school district are able to schedule a lunch appointment with the superintendent through the secretary in the office. They are allowed to pick three classmates to fill out the four available seats that surround the circular table in my office. This interaction offers me an opportunity to remain connected to the consumers of our teaching services. The luncheon date also provides the learners with a chance to get to know the superintendent. It's been a rewarding experience for me and, judging from the number of learners who sign up, it must be an interesting experience for the guests as well. I have held these regular events in each school I served as principal during the course of a career that spans over three decades.

During the thirty minutes we share together, I perform a magic trick or two (it looks good on your resume since superintendents are expected to be magical), watch in awe as kids eat some amazing culinary concoctions, (you wouldn't believe some of the sandwiches I've seen - like they came out of the Fear Factor TV show) and we indulge in general conversations. In an effort to stimulate discussion and learn about the lunch guests I prompt them with dialogue starters. These questions often include: What is your favorite television show? What character would you want to be if you could be any character in a book you've read or a movie you've watched? Where would you go if you could visit anywhere in the world - and why?

The answers to these solicitations vary across a lengthy spectrum, based on whether the learner is in Kindergarten or twelfth grade. The one question that is answered without pause by the responder is: What would you like to do be when you grow up? The replies pour out without hesitation from younger learners while the older learners are much more measured in their responses. The answers become far more specific and sophisticated as the age of the lunch guest increases. The replies afford me a keen insight into the aspirations of our learners.

Typically, in grades Kindergarten through Second the occupations are limited to: fireman, policeman, nurse, teacher, and soldier. Those in grades Three through Five want to become president, professional athletes, movie actors/actresses, dancers, singers, rock stars, or a fairly new niche - general celebrity ala the Kardashians with no talent other than self promotion. While this later group is more expansive in scope and hope, the degree of realism wanes compared to the desires of the youngest grade levels. The middle school years tend to bring forth a more appropriate and attainable list of possibilities. The answers reflect an interest in veterinary science, television anchorperson, radio disc jockey, architect, marine biologist, video game designer, sportscaster, auto mechanic, and stewardess, Then, with the oldest learners, a more focused list of prospects: pediatric oncology, forensic scientist, cultural anthropologist, computer scientist, stock broker, sports medicine, para-legal, and emergency medical technician.

There are very few surprises along the way. However, a first grader did catch me off guard one afternoon. Once everyone around the table had finished replying, a little girl looked right at me with an anxious expression and politely and seriously asked, What do you want to be when you grow up?

It took me a moment to get over the fact she didn't think I had grown up yet (despite the gray hair revealed in my profile picture what you can't see in that image is that I'm only 5'5" tall). And then, with the same degree of earnest she displayed in her question, I responded: "I want to be an author. I want to write a book on school leadership and then a couple of novels."

"Oh. That's good." she said and returned to her sandwich.

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