Chad Johnson and Students

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?


4 thoughts on “Chad Johnson and Students

  1. Jim Van Pelt

    The term, “unrealistic,” is a tough one to nail down. I had a senior’s mom talk to me a few years ago about her daughter’s aspiration to be major in journalism and be a reporter. The mom asked me if I thought this was a realistic aspiration for her daughter. I thought at the time that I hadn’t seen too many students who would be worse candidates for a writing job than this kid. She couldn’t fill a paragraph. She had shown no originality, no sense for the sound of language, no insight into human behavior (if empathy had a pulse, she would have flat lined), and little imagination. She was, however, sincere and reliable. I told the mom that if that is what her daughter wanted to do, and she worked at it, that journalism wasn’t unrealistic. In my heart, though, I thought, “Kids change majors all the time. It doesn’t matter where she starts.”

    So, six years pass and I get an e-mail from the girl. She had completed her degree and was working as a full-time reporter for a major newspaper. She wanted to thank me for my faith in her when she was my student.

    I think your questions about what the kid is doing to achieve the dream are good ones, but I’d never tell a kid that he’s being unrealistic.

  2. Mystery Teacher

    Wow! You brought back memories. This is why I don’t like telling kids how wonderful they are all the time. My own daughter decided she wanted to go to college in Connecticutt. The college cost $22,000 a year. That was how much I was making. I asked her where the applications were and she told me not to worry about that. I reminded her that she wouldn’t be able to fly home very ofter because of the cost and she told me “I was killing her dream.” She never applied for any scholarships and never told me when the meetings were. She just thought since she was gifted (truly gifted too) she would just have it all fall into her hands. It didn’t. She ended up in a local university and dropped out of that because they moved too slow for her.
    Luckily, she is not married and has my grandchildren and is doing fantastic. She thinks she will go back to college someday when she is ready. I hope so.

  3. drpezz Post author

    JVP – Good point. I just wonder how many of these students (as I described) make it to their dreams versus those who do not. I still just don’t know what to say.

    MT – Awesome anecdote! I’m glad your daughter is doing well.


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