Advice for Abigail

by Gabriel Urbina


Abigail and David, her father, are having a conversation, during breakfast, about career planning, career changes, education in gereral, and their personal lives. Abigail will be going to study in Italy during her junior year. Her father is a school counselor.

Abigail, on a beautiful Saturday morning, was fixing breakfast for herself and David, her Dad. She was preparing their favorite, blueberry pancakes, and strong Colombian coffee.

Soon, Abi would be going to Florence, Italy. She was an Art History major, and she was going to spend her junior year there.She was excited about it, but she felt some guilt and anxiety about leaving her father alone for such an extended period of time.

His name was David, and he was a widower. Sandra, her mom had passed away three years ago, when Abi was sixteen years old, from a rare form of cancer. Both Sandra and David were teachers. Sandra was an English teacher, and David taught German. Eventually, after Sandra's passing, David became a school counselor.

"Dad, breakfast is ready!"

"Coming!" He kissed her good morning, and sat down with his daughter, whom he adored. It was so touching to see how protective of him she had become. She had transitioned so well from a teenager to the young woman of the house she had chosen to be.

"So, what are you and your boyfriend planning to do this weekend?"

"You are a little behind in the news, Dad. Eddie and I broke up a couple of weeks ago."

"What? What happened?"

"He wanted me to move in with him, and I said no. He knew I was going to Italy. Of course he knew I would say no. I don't blame him. I wouldn't expect him to be waiting for me for a year. So we broke up."

"Eddie is a very nice young man, but part of a very common desire among young people to get their own place; to become independent."

"I don't fit in within that trend. I like living at home. My room is my space. And the way you and mom raised me, I have always felt independent. I wouldn't feel this way living with Eddie. He has two other roommates; then add all the friends that happen to come by all the time, in search of food and drink many of them. Some independence! No, thanks."

"Well, your room will be waiting for you, when you get back."

"Glad to hear it. Dad, I always wanted to ask you, why did you leave the classroom? You and mom loved teaching! Does it have to go with the fact she's gone?"

"Well, in part, yes. I was working on my master's in Counseling already, before your mother's illness. I was taking one course per semester. After she passed away, I started to take more courses to keep busy in the evenings, I think also it was a form of self-help. But there was another reason. The kids taking German were very good students, academically inclined, motivated, with a sense of purpose. The class sizes were always small. Usually, I had to teach a freshman English class to complete my teaching load. Not enough enrollment in German. But one year, I was assigned to one period of in-school suspension. It was to replace Andrea, who was entitled to a prep period. The students still had to keep working on the various subjects they were taking. Andrea was a certified teacher, a generalist, who was ideal for the job. This experience provided me with quite a contrast with my German classes. What I saw was frustrated students, with reading problems, with mental blocks with math,and in many cases, problems at home. I felt I wanted to reach more students. That lead me to my work as counselor."

"OK, I understand now. But, don't you miss teaching German?"

"Yes, but I still get to substitute for the current German teacher, and also for the teacher assigned to that one period of in-school suspension."

Abigail said, "I think one of the big contributors to students' frustration, is the widespread idea that everyone should go to college; and kids who don't are made to feel like failures. They is always talk about 'saving for college,' not about saving for suitable training, for acquiring valuable skills."

"I think so too. This is what I'm trying to do. To help students with their problems; and to help them find what they really like to study, what really interest them, and what they really want to do with their lives."

"I like what you are doing, Dad. There are so many young people around with useless degrees, and owing a lot of money in student loans. Not a positive side of going to college,and not conducive to happiness, but dissatisfaction."

"You're right. I'm happy you are enjoying your college experience. I'm glad your college counselor advised you to take Italian. Our high school doesn't offer it; most high schools don't. What was your experience taking Italian?"

"I learned more than I expected, because, besides learning about the Italian language, I began to realize why American college students have problems with their foreign language requirements."

"Oh, I want to hear more about this. Do tell."

"Well, with the exception of isolated cases of students having a mental block, the problems and situations I observed, are different than those you experienced with the students assigned to in-school suspension. College students are used to lectures and discussion groups; while learning another language requires the students to memorize new material daily, to participate in practice drills, and to go to the language lab. You can't fake it. It's labor intensive. Many people drop out because it's too much work. Too much pressure. Some students get analytic, and when the instructor is explaining a grammar point, they ask why. It's the wrong kind of question. The instructor is teaching how to use the language, not why the language is the way it is. Other students want discuss the cultural readings, which are self-explanatory, in order to stop the practice drills, and to sidetrack the instructor."

"This is good. Tell me more. I love it. Were the students successful in sidetracking the instructor?"

"No, Mrs. Bagnatori wouldn't fall for it. She was an excellent instructor, for those of us who really wanted to learn. Look Dad, these courses, mainly first and second semester, show people up. They are not going to do well because they don't have regular study habits, have no self-discipline, and to put it bluntly, they are lazy."

"Wow, you are tough! Anything else you want to teach your Dad?"

"Yes, I do, but first let me have some orange juice. Too much talk. Do you want some juice?"

"Yes, please. It seems this a going to be quite a long conversation."

"I know you are not complaining. OK, I will continue. Another situation has to do with students who are worried about their grades, and their grade point averages. It appears they are used to getting easy grades, perhaps in easy courses. Some declare they need an A; they have to have it, but they do not want to put the necessary work to earn it."

"This is so interesting. In my German classes, I had only motivated students. I didn't experience what you have described."

"Glad to make a contribution to your professional development. It's so nice to have a counselor right at home. What advice do you have for me, Dad?"

"Abigail, I don't think you really need any advice. You are very observant, you analyze learning and life situations very well, and, it seems to me, you make the right decisions almost instinctively."

"Come on, Dad. Let me have your input."

"OK, I'll give you the same advice one of my Education professors gave me. 'Be able to do more than one thing, and you'll have no problems finding work.' Looking back, it is an advice I have followed. I worked very well for me."

"All right, you are rolling. I want to hear more!"

"Well, you are a History of Art major. Your chances of finding a position in a museum are less than ten percent. Learn the Italian language well. You will have a living lab at your disposal everyday. That's how I learned German. When I was in the Army, I was stationed in Germany for nearly two years. I took German courses right at the base, University extension courses were available. So, this would open the possibility of you getting a position as an Art and Italian teacher."

"A chip of the old block, eh? I wouldn't have a problem with that."

"Another possibility would be to become a library specialist, or subject specialist, in Art, Architecture, and Italian"

"Thanks, this helps me a lot. I'm looking forward to my year in Italy. What I don't like about it is that you are going to be all by yourself. So, here is some advice for you, from a daughter who loves you very much. Find yourself a girlfriend. We both will always love and remember mom, but I don't want you to be alone. What about Andrea, the one who can teach anything, or Helga or Heidi or whatever who teaches German now?"

"It's Heidi. She is a knockout but she is married to a military officer. Andrea is married to a Highway Patrolman."

"Oh, they both like uniforms. You don't have a chance anyway."

"Don't worry Abi. I'm working on it. By the way, could you do some babysitting tonight? Linda's regular babysitter had to cancel."

"Linda? Who is Linda? How come I wasn't informed about her?," said Abigail with fake outrage.

"Well, we are even. You didn't inform me about the breakup with your boyfriend."

"Oh, minor details. Who is Linda?"

"She is the daughter of Dan Ferguson, one of the History teachers at our District. He has more than thirty years of service under his belt."

"All right, so you are going out with Linda! Is she a teacher also? Is she a widow also, or a divorcee?"

David smiled and said, "Maybe you should give me a written questionnaire to fill out."

"Quit stalling. This is very basic information."

"OK. She works as a paralegal. She is forty-something. She is a single mother. She got pregnant and decided to keep the baby. There is no man in her life."

"Except you, of course. You are in good shape. No uniforms involved this time. How did you meet her?"

"Dan invited me for dinner a couple of times. She was there both times, with her four year-old son, visiting her parents."

"Wow. How long have you known her?" David said about a year.

"Well, I'm happy you have someone, Dad. I was worried about you .Looks like I'm going to leave in good hands. What is the name of the boy?"

"Daniel, like her grandfather. Goes by Danny."

"So, at what time do I report for duty?"

"I told Linda I would collect her at 7. Why don't you get there by 6:30 so you two get acquainted a bit. And go easy on the questions."

"Don't worry, Dad. I'll be on my best behavior."

"Right. I want you to know that Linda or no Linda, I'm going to miss you. Write to me as often as you can."

"You too, Dad. I would like updates on your social life. Would you like more pancakes?"

"Yes, I would. This interrogation, I mean, this conversation made me hungry. I need seconds. I'll pour us more coffee."

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