Transitions and Making Choices

It isn’t easy facing new challenges and the unknown; in fact, sometimes we drag our feet when we are uncertain of best options for the future. As we approach autumn, Riad and I quickly realized that we had best get the house on the market, even if we still see the details that need repair. We are ready, except for painting our bedroom and sorting out 16 years of clutter in the basement, but the grand question is still unanswered. What should we do if we find a buyer?

Last night, while walking in 50 degree weather, we reminisced about our warm and sunny California trips from earlier in the year. Then we were pulled back into the reality that all four of our children still live with us currently, and our eldest, a nursing student, had his first day of clinicals at the new ultra luxurious Elmhurst Hospital. It would be a dream to work there after graduation, but we want our kids to move with us too. In reality, there are many fine benefits to where we live generally, but the climate and its impingement on our desire to maintain fitness through outdoor activities pall our enthusiasm for staying when it is below 40 degrees. The thought of staying based here, while seeking an investment property in a warmer winter locale that we can visit for a few weeks in January seems attractive.

So transitions are sticky to negotiate, especially when others are involved. The best means of rescue though is when someone else, a trusted ally, can give advice and lessen the anxiety. Likewise, when our youngest son rose in rank to enter high school as a freshman, it was with some amusement that I overheard his older sibling, who is a senior at the same school, coach his younger brother, “Dude, you can’t wear plaid shirts.” “You can’t be seen talking to ______!” “You have to do your Algebra the way the teacher demonstrates it, not just do it in your head.” “This is important for later!” “Dude, if you miss the bus, you can run to the next stop ‘cause they have a lot of kids to load, so you can usually still make it.” “Hey, you can’t pick my friends to be your friends, and you can’t go to the football game until you have friends!” I understood perfectly then when my freshman gloated to his senior brother, “I can go to the football game because I have friends now.”

I recall that when we would transition students from 5th to 6th grade at our pre-K 3 through 12th grade school, we deliberately scheduled an orientation for the students. In the last few weeks of 5th grade, students were privy to shadow 6th grade in order to see what life was like outside the self-contained classroom. Then in the first week of 6th grade, the students were advised that organization was important, and that emotional distress not uncommon. We gave them handouts that specified exactly what they should be expected to do, and teachers usually dovetailed our efforts by holding them to compliance whenever they could. Naturally, all the details were presented in a visually pleasing presentation, and we encouraged students to feel free to talk to any adult if they felt overwhelmed. During Open House, many teachers would also advise parents about expectations and potential pitfalls experienced by many transitional students at 6th and freshman levels.

At the heart of many students’ lack of performance seems to be a deficit in organization and planning, and there is much that individual teachers can do to facilitate the adoption of these in their classes. A review of necessary binders, note taking skills, homework format, and frequent assessment to verify daily effort go a long way to getting students on track. Also, as heightened levels of skill and quality of student products are expected, teachers use rubrics in conjunction with anonymous samples of student work in order for new students to more fully understand what quality work is expected. With timely feedback, students are able to edge their work and performance toward those expectations and feel the satisfaction from their efforts.

This reminds me of the improvement I saw in my golf game this past week. Vexed by my poor performance in putting, I split my score card to differentiate the number of drives versus putts. Knowing that I was having difficulty in “seeing the line” of the putt, I took several putters to the practice putting green and quickly realized that my Daisy putter, from when I first learned to play golf as an 18 year old, was my best fit. It is significantly shorter than other putters collected in my garage too, so sometimes something old is what fits best. Overall, I saw a definite improvement in both drives and putts on a nice little 9 hole executive course, and felt confident that the adage “practice makes perfect” hold true, both for me and my freshman who is hearing that applied to his Algebra, Arabic, and writing. Success feels great! Be sure to make time to take care of your own wellness too!

More insights to transitions for Middle School to High School can be found from William D. Waidelich, Ed.D., Executive Director of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) at this link.

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