Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How to Become a Pirate Hunter Guidance Counselor

“Well,” Eric’s high school counselor asked again. “What do you want to do after you graduate?”

This is the opening line, and the protagonist’s main point of development in How to Become a Pirate Hunter. As a high school English teacher, I’ve noticed more than my share of students who would respond to that question as if they’ve just been asked to recite the geological features of the dark side of the moon. Those students are not lacking in capacity (though that may be unrefined), but many lack some imagination.

Often, as I’ve assigned essays to students, I found they retread the same political topics, narrative experiences, or social issues that they’ve written throughout their school writing history. They lacked imagination, and I lacked the insight to provide imaginative possibilities. So I tried something different and encouraged students to write according to their passions and personal interests, yet still within the bounds of the essay methods and styles we were learning in class. This led to far more interesting, far more imaginative writing on their part.

All of the sudden, instead of English being just one more class to check off on the road to graduation, I had a student--a wakeboarding fanatic--who came to report to me that the essay he wrote for my class had been published by a wakeboarding magazine and that he had received a check for the essay plus hundreds of dollars worth of free equipment. If you’ll forgive some poetic hyperbole: his eyes were lit up by the results of the application of his imagination to his situation, and the possibilities of the pairing of his passion and the practical became his purpose.

Eric, the protagonist of How to Become a Pirate Hunter, is limited by his lack of confidence in himself and his imagination for his future. His answers to that age-old adolescent query come out as the same cookie-cutter jobs voiced by elementary school kids down the ages. For Eric, it takes the adventure of a lifetime and a good friend to open his mind to the possibilities of rising above mediocrity and realizing his full potential.

Not every student is going to be fortunate enough to have an eye-opening adventure to another world and a friend with special powers to provide it. In fact, I’m guessing this is rather rare. Luckily, most students are fortunate enough to have a caring high school counselor or administrator, or teacher who can accomplish that same goal of expanding their practical imagination when it comes to future goals.

Perhaps one of the more fictional elements of my story is that Eric’s problems are not resolved through the careful guidance of an aware school counselor after that opening line … but in my defense, a two-page story in an office is not as exciting as a novel with a bunch of pirate adventures!