students using soft skills (Edited)

The Hard Facts about Soft Skills

Not so long ago, my son had mono and even though he was too sick to sit upright, he emailed all his professors to let them know and ask for any work he would be missing until he was cleared to go back to school. Most of his teachers told him not to worry about the work, just relax and get better, except for his freshman composition teacher. Her email read something like, “Ethan, do not ever address a professor in an email with ‘Hey Dr. D.’ as the greeting.” To which I had to sit on my hands for 3 days not to reply with, “Hey Dr. D., the kid’s temperature is 103, drinking water feels like swallowing broken glass, and he’s been sleeping 20 hours a day and he still emailed you, so maybe we can give him a tiny break, huh?”   But I didn’t, because, and it pains me to say this, she’s right.

Soft skills are the skills needed to function on an adult level; time management, responsibility, commitment, the ability to make decisions and problem solving, effective communication skills, teamwork, etc. (get a full list of soft skills here) and most students are a quart low on these. You would think kids would naturally pick these skills up, and some do. However, an alarming amount of my bright academic coaching students who are in high school and college have no idea how to write a proper email, figure out where the tutoring center is, or how to appropriately approach a teacher for help in a class. The way people communicate has drastically changed in just one generation. No need to develop mature communication skills, just email or text.  And speaking of texting, how did it become acceptable to send written communication with words so condensed they don’t make sense, purposeful misspellings, and over-the-top slang? No wonder kids can’t write to save their lives.

Back in the day, we didn’t need an academic coach or life coach to teach soft skills because they were taught at school, at your part-time job, and at home as part of everyday life. I learned how to write a check in eighth grade where I also learned how to sew a gingham apron and make Chili Con Carne. Life skills! Now teachers have to worry about high-stakes testing, no time for silly skills that students will need to succeed in the workplace.  There is a reason why I always tell parents that academic coaching is a holistic experience. I sometimes spend less time teaching study strategies than I do teaching students how to respectfully communicate with their teachers, handle working with a group on projects, practice interviewing for jobs, and convincing them not to drop a class just because it’s hard.

The good news is, kids are relatively pliable and most of our academic coaching students get it with some practice, and when they do it’s a beautiful thing. I was recently leaving the dentist’s office and was informed I needed to pay for the cavity my son (the one who had mono) had filled there a few weeks before. I had no idea he even went to the dentist. He made the appointments and took care of it himself. It was all I could do not to bust out in a rendition of I/He Will Survive! right there in the waiting room.