Most of what I dislike about our education system coalesces around final exams: the emphasis on memorization of facts, the confounding of memory with actual learning, the stress and sleep deprivation nearly all students experience (both system-inflicted and self-inflicted), the lack of any post-finals reinforcement (which encourages cram-and-forget)...
I would assume that lots of teachers out there want to actually provide their students with long-term, useful knowledge. I would assume that many of them are as frustrated as I with memory-based curricula, but feel like they don't have a choice (and in many cases they really don't have a choice!) I would also assume many teachers know that a week after finals, their students will forget the vast majority of what they learned in any given class. That must be frustrating.
I don't come across too many students whose teachers are doing it differently, though. There are some, yes. But for the vast majority of students, memorization-as-education remains the norm, and I find that very sad.
In my opinion, college fairs are the best way for students and families to learn about best-fit schools schools they might otherwise never have discovered. They're fantastic opportunities, but you might only have 2 or 3 hours with potentially hundreds of colleges attending. Here are my tips for getting the most out of any college fair you attend.
1. The primary purpose of attending a college fair is to discover schools you don't know about already. If you're already interested in Narnia University, what could you learn about Narnia U. at a college fair that you couldn't also learn some other way? Don't use your limited time that way. Instead, walk around. If you see a school you don't know anything about, walk up the representative and say, "Hi, I'm Billy and I go to San Francisco High School. I don't think I've heard of your college. Can you tell me about it?" Telling you about their college is their job! They couldn't be more ready to do it.
If something they say indicates that it's not a fit for you, tell them—they'll appreciate your honesty and that don't want to waste your time. In fact, you might ask them for a recommendation: "I was interested in your school because I'd love to go to college in Boston, but I know I want a school that's much smaller than yours. Do you have any suggestions?"
Of course, we're most interested in the best-case scenario: you find a really exciting school that you you never knew about before. That's what you're looking for, and it's the primary purpose of attending a college fair. Making that find is a big deal. It just might change your life!
There are other good reasons to focus on schools you know less about. They're probably less known among Bay Area students in general, meaning they receive fewer applications from Bay Area kids; that increases your chances for admission and scholarships if you apply. Also, representatives from these schools will have more time and more interest in talking to you.
2. Do your research beforehand. There will likely be a few schools you know you want to learn more about, or have legitimate questions for the representative that you couldn't find answers to online. That's great to know. Research which schools will be attending so you don't miss them.
3. Seek out quality, one-on-one time talking to representatives. In many cases, the representative at a college fair is the same person who will handle your application in the fall. If you can build a relationship with them, that's valuable. Share your enthusiasm with them and have a joyful conversation. They'll remember that when you apply, and also if you reach out to them with any questions before then.
4. Don't waste time on the most popular schools (and most crowded tables). At UC's in particular, the person at the fair probably won't end up reading your application, as UC's contract out for additional readers to deal with their tens of thousands of applications per campus. And you probably won't get good "face time" with a representative who has a long line of students in front of them. If you can, great—but otherwise, don't waste time standing in line, asking questions that you could have found answers to online, and talking briefly to representatives who won't remember you later.
In summary, you can see the theme: use your time in high-value ways and have fun discovering what your future might be.
Students, Families, and Colleagues,
What will this space look like in a year? I have no idea! There's no plan here, just an opportunity to share what I think about on a daily basis.
Most of what I think about each day is how I can participate in making my students' lives better while also guiding them through legitimately difficult and consequential undertakings. I want my students to thrive, even when academic demands—and usually, a long list of other demands—seem to work against them doing that.
A lot of what I write here, I think, will be about that balance. I hope, and I really believe, that you'll find some of it useful.