In a Class by Itself

If it were up to her, teacher Tammy Oehlke would make the SUCCESS Foundation’s program part of the high school curriculum—a semester-long class in itself. “It would be so worthwhile for these kids,” she says.

As it is, Oehlke teaches the foundation’s book, SUCCESS for Teens, in her Garland, Texas, career development class. She believes it offers valuable concepts and discussion points about achieving success in life and work that many parents no longer have time to share with their teens. As a teacher for 18 years, 10 of them in high school, Oehlke says, “I see a difference—just in 18 years—and a lot of it is our society. Kids are missing out on what it takes to be successful.”

She might ask her students, “ ‘What means the most to you?’ Sometimes these kids have never been asked that question.” She might follow up their answers with “You want to be successful? Well, what is success? What does that mean to you?” When they don’t ponder these questions, they aren’t ready for life after high school.

Oehlke’s students are in a career preparation program that allows them to work half-days in the community, so feedback from their supervisors has underscored voids that a program like SUCCESS for Teens can fill—by teaching about setting priorities and goals, maintaining focus, putting events in perspective, and persevering after setbacks, for example.

To build these life skills, Oehlke and her students read one chapter in SUCCESS for Teens at a time. Often she reads aloud. “As we go through the chapter, we stop and we discuss what’s in that chapter and how it can pertain to their lives at that time.” Sometimes she has the students read the teenage authors’ first-person stories alone.

Oehlke marks her copy of the book with the “big, strong points” and some of the quotes, and she’ll stop to ask a question such as, “ ‘Did you notice the difference between teens who feel successful and those who don’t—because of those little choices that they make?’ And then I’ll say, ‘Can you give me an example when you’ve done that? When you have felt like you are not on that right road?’ ” Next she asks whether a small decision helped them get back on track.

Empowering students is a theme in the book and in Oehlke’s lessons. Many teens think it’s not possible to achieve their goals, but she disagrees. “Take those small steps,” she says, referring to a fundamental principle in the book.

 Oehlke eventually would like to become “almost a motivational speaker” for teens, with a message based on the lessons of the SUCCESS for Teens book. “I would love to go around and be able to speak to these kids who say they have no clue what the book SUCCESS for Teens is.” Teens exposed to its messages “take to the book” after seeing other students’ stories in it, Oehlke says, “and it helps the students feel OK.” Some write notes of thanks at the end of the class.  


Visit the SUCCESS Foundation to order a free copy of the book for your classroom or purchase for students in need. 


Betsy Simnacher is a freelance writer who has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. She lives in the suburbs of Dallas.

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