Chad Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals (Ocho Cinco to his friends) on the ESPN show Pardon the Interruption said he could beat Michael Phelps in a swimming match. Johnson mentioned that many inner-city youths do not receive the opportunities to escape their neighborhoods to show off their talents (very true), and he followed this statement by saying—completely straight-faced and without a hint of humor—that he was a three time swimming champion in his neighborhood and could defeat Phelps in the pool.
I liken Johnson’s statements to the unrealistic expectations of some of my students. Johnny, who reads at a third grade level and is of sophomore standing as a junior, still swears he’ll be going to an Ivy League school immediately after high school. Cindy, who has failed all of her math classes so far and has not passed the state test, resolutely states she will be an accountant. I’m sure you’ve heard these stories from students who not only do not understand the reality of their present but also do not comprehend where their limits lie.
Maybe it’s more of a self-defense mechanism to not admit a fading dream, but it’s difficult to hear nevertheless. I sometimes wonder if it’s self-delusion, overconfidence, or simply ignorance.
No matter the case, I never really know what to say. Sometimes I ask what the steps are to reaching their goals or I might compliment the goal or I may just not react.
What is the appropriate response to a student who does not seem to have a realistic vision of the present or future?