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The struggle continues after graduation

My 2012 Advisory.

favicon Last night, I had my first post-graduation dinner with my 2012 Advisory at a pizza place in the neighborhood. Thirteen of 18 students showed up. It was great to catch up.

It was the first time the crew had been together since last June. My students care about each other, and so they quickly fell into a group check-in, a routine they’d participated in weekly since ninth grade.

The updates ran the gamut. Here are some snippets:

  • The valedictorian who disliked and dropped out of her elite East coast school, now back at home playing soccer and applying to UCs;
  • The two students struggling at UC Merced, one on academic probation, who nonetheless both say that college is easier than high school;
  • The student who finds himself at City College after a disastrous last year of high school that got him disenrolled from UC Santa Cruz;
  • The two students who chose the military, one of whom is eager for his tour of duty, while the other faces isolation in rural South Carolina;
  • The students who are shining at San Francisco State after participating in a summer program geared to help students transition to college;
  • The student who left her family and is now living with a friend after deciding she could no longer deal with the abuse in her house.

Overall, my students were happy and positive and upbeat. They are great and strong and smart and resilient people. They are doing some great things. They feel confident about where they stand and what their futures will bring.

I am hopeful that they will continue to feel this way. After all, the struggle continues after graduation. Yesterday’s sobering article in the New York Times, “For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall,” reminded me that it’s not enough for high schools to provide a high-quality education. Getting across the stage is just one small step, and especially if you’re from a lower-income background, it’s quite possible to do well in high school and then fail in college, even if you have similar academic skills as your richer peers.

If you have time, please read the article and let me know what you think.

As teachers, many of us think that our primary purpose is to serve the students in front of us, those who enter our classrooms every day (and those who are absent). It is. But seeing my graduates the other night and reading that article in the newspaper make me consider expanding my responsibility as a teacher. The school year may end, and students may graduate, but there’s a lot more learning to do, and a lot more struggle, and many more opportunities for mentorship. favicon


  1. Kevin Eagan

    Thanks for this article, Mark! As someone who teaches first-year composition, I deal with a range of students. Many students come in “knowing” the material, but they aren’t as prepared in other ways: they struggle with time management, attendance, or start failing the course simply because they stopped handing in assignments. From our perspective as teachers, we know that these are silly reasons to fail a class…but students at this stage don’t always see it that way. Then, if you add in the struggles many first-generation or poor students face in college, it makes sense that freshman retention rates are so low, on average.

    Luckily I teach at a university that takes retention seriously. Research indicates that summer prep courses and study skills classes/activities help students understand the nuts and bolts of college. In my experience, the students who struggle most in my first-year classes are the students who don’t take these programs seriously. Very rarely do I have to fail a student for not being able to handle or learn the material. It’s always the student who stops coming to class or stops handing in assignments, so it’s good to have these reminders and support systems at the University level.

    • Mark Isero

      Thank you for the comment, Kevin! I am happy that you teach at a university that understands the importance of reaching out to students who may struggle without intervention. I’ve been reading a lot lately about how so many students are placed into remedial English classes (because their skills are low coming out of high school) and how colleges approach this challenge differently. What have you found that works for your university?

      I see the attendance and not-turning-in-work dynamic in high school, too. Many of my colleagues cite non-academic factors; after all, students face many challenges outside of school. Some of these are hard for teachers and schools to address. At the same time, I’ve found that students often stop coming to class and turning in their assignments because they fundamentally don’t believe they can achieve. The work is hard; they don’t believe in their skills; they don’t feel the teacher believes in them; the only way to succeed to by being smart, rather than by working hard and practicing consistent academic habits. It’s a tough situation for teacher and student alike.

      I assume that you teach beginning composition. Is this true? If so, we likely face some similar challenges. Thank you again for your insights.

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