I always laugh when a student asks, "Why should I try hard in school? If this was a job, and I got paid, that would be different. But I don't get paid to do all this work and I can't be fired, so what's the point?"
My response is always the same, "Twenty-two thousand dollars per year. High school will either make you or cost you $22,000 per year for the rest of your life."
The USA has long been known as the "Land of Opportunity." And, like it or not, much of this opportunity comes as a result of a good education. In fact, every statistic comparing the average earnings of a high school graduate against those with a bachelor's degree, master's or doctorate shows the latter makes more than $1,000,000 in their lifetime than the former.
According to Payscale.com, a college graduate can expect an average salary of $52,000, or $22,000 more than the $30,000 per year a high school graduate will take home. Putting that in terms of percentages, finishing college provides a wage increase of 73 percent!
How does this relate to one's performance in high school? Simply put, high school prepares students for college. And, how well students find themselves prepared for college usually comes as a result of the effort they put forth in high school.
Did students take the time to learn how to read a text and pull important facts in order to do well on tests? Did they choose to answer questions in complete sentences and take the time needed to perfect their essays? Did they review the directions and check their answers while doing their math homework?
Or, did the students instead choose to rely on the teachers to read the text to them, tell them what they should memorize and then complain if they felt the study guide incomplete? Did they give one-word answers and hand in their first drafts? Did they give up on problems and turn in complete, but not accurate, homework?
In other words, did the student work hard to earn As and Bs? Or did the student do just enough work to squeak through with Cs and Ds?
Sadly, the squeakers who do not figure out how to do well in high school hardly ever continue their education or, if they do, they find college too difficult and drop out because college requires they learn from what they read. Those without strong critical reading skills might open a book, but they rarely know how to pull out facts for possible test questions and future essays.
And, since most school districts have a policy that does not allow tests to come home after a reasonable amount of time, parents of failing students believe the excuse that "the teacher can't teach." Armed with the tests, parents can refute this claim and show their children from where in the book the test question actually came. Then, the students have only themselves to blame, and rightfully so.
On the other hand, some figure all this out by high school themselves. This allows them to find success when they try hard and participate in the education process. Because these students miss only a few test questions, they can easily learn from the few mistakes they made. And, doing well in a multitude of classes gives them a diverse skill set. Then, when they move on to college, they have the ability to keep up with challenging coursework, which provides them with options; options that include pursuing a career that might make you obscenely rich or moderately comfortable. But, in either case, the well prepared student with the diverse skill set will have the opportunity to make that choice.
So, when students cannot understand why they have to put forth this tremendous effort without getting paid for all their hard work, remind them they will receive as much compensation as they want in the future; $22,000, $40,000, $100,000 or more every year for the rest of their life. What they make of their life is all up to them.