Students are fed the consistent message that they can achieve anything in life if only they just work hard at it. They are in control of their future. But students are also aware of the fact that much of their future is out of their control and that no matter how hard they try, they will never achieve certain things. These two forces– the internal force of their own desires and the external force of the world acting upon them– conspire to shape their life experiences.
Students must make decisions in life about how to treat themselves and others. There is a tension here in deciding whose needs should assume greater importance. Sometimes the selfish instinct takes over, other people are shut out and there is a laser-like focus on individual needs. Other times the selfless attitude leads the way. Making wise and balanced decisions about when to serve the self and other people is an important component to living a good life.
Students are in the midst of making so many ethical choices about the types of people they should be hanging out with. There is peer pressure to spend time with people who may make questionable life choices but whose approval is important for a student’s self-esteem. And then there are parents whose messages often conflict with what students believe inside. Decisions on which company to keep are not easy but they are integral to moral development.
Respect is something all students want. The question is how to get it. Students are told that if they hold themselves in high regard, people will want to be around them. They are also told that respect comes from doing things for others. Though the path towards respect is different for people, all agree that it is a worthwhile pursuit and leads to greater self-awareness and self-efficacy.
Going through hard times is something most everybody has to do. Some people face hardship and turn away. They become discourages and think that success is unattainable. Others see hardship as an opportunity for self-motivation, goal-setting and a fresh re-evaluation of values. Students must determine whether to see hardship as a barrier or an opportunity, and accept the consequences underlying the choices they make.
The ability to work in a team is touted by teachers, employers and coaches as an indispensable skill. Alone, people can accomplish great things but when people work as a team the potential for success skyrockets. Students know this in theory but when it comes to accepting the reality of working with others who have different styles and motivations, all of a sudden teamwork feels like a heavy burden.
Ask the students what they dream about and you are sure to get a wild variety of interesting answers. Students dream all of the time and some use them to set lofty goals for their life pursuits. Others see dreams as fake pictures of reality. However they are viewed, thinking about dreams is a chance for students to become more self-aware about what they value and what they really want out of life.
Character development is at least as important as the development of academic skills. A strong character fuels self-discipline and self-motivation, both of which are important catalysts for success in life. But character development is hard work, especially when a person’s difficult life circumstances get in the way.
Every student knows what failure and success are. They pass and fail tests. They lose and win games. Students are just beginning to learn about what they are capable of, what they excel at and what they may be lacking that will always make them question whether they should persevere or quit.
Mark Twain famously quipped that death and taxes are the only things certain in life. We can probably add failure to that short list. Of all themes, failure is one to which students can relate most. There’s failure at home, at school and in the workplace. It is a constant. Students are taught to develop a growth mindset and learn from failure.