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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Every So Often

Every so often, at church, or in random conversation, I hear a variation of this: "Teenagers these days are awful. They are rude, they don't know how to work, and they don't care about anyone but themselves."

And sometimes, when I go out where teenagers are (the mall, the movie theater) I sort of agree. They are self-absorbed and sometimes loud and obnoxious. I do have to fight the urge to throw down some serious English-teacher-dirty-looks that were honed years ago. Trust me, they work.

However, having said that, most of the time, I can't help thinking that those kind of teenagers did not define my high school teaching experience. Instead, my high school teaching experience was defined by thoughtful, smart, funny young people, who had goals, dreams, and ambitions that they were proud of. And okay, yeah, they were probably obnoxious in movie theaters, but in person, they were amazing.

I always counter the variations of "Teenagers suck!" that I hear with the following anecdote, taken directly from Room 233 (the one with the orange carpet), my first year of teaching.

There was a kid in my class, and I quite honestly can't remember his name, although I wish I could. He was possibly one of the most annoying students I've ever had. For the sake of this blog, let's call him Justin. He blurted things out that were completely random and often rude or crass, he talked about himself constantly, he pretended he was a gangster (it was in Pleasant Grove, Utah, people--we had no gangsters), and there was something in his demeanor that suggested repressed violence. Later in the year, Justin would be removed from the school for writing journals explaining exactly who he would kill in the school and how much he hated everyone. He was a walking time bomb.

Of course, every time we had partner work or group work, Justin was usually hard pressed to find a partner, and I usually ended up assigning him to a group, or quietly negotiating with someone who didn't already have a partner to go ask him to be their partner.

I wish I could say that I saw Justin's potential, nurtured his spirit, and helped him to deal with his anger. But quite frankly, I found him annoying, too. I'm sure I tried harder than his peers to mask my annoyance, but I'm sure he still felt it.

One day I assigned a partner-work assignment, and allowed my students to choose their own partner. I was fully prepared to assign Justin, whom I knew wouldn't be asked to join a group, to another partnership.

I watched the usual melee of partnering, when to my suprise, Lisa Lopez (not the TLC singer, although I did call her Left-Eye all year long, which I'm sure she'd never heard before and thought it was hilarious), a darling, non-obnoxious, perfectly sweet girl approached Justin. She had friends in the class, and I could see that some of them were ready to be her partner.

"Hey," she said, "Do you want to be my partner?" Just like that. She just did it. She didn't make a big deal out of it, she didn't act condescending, she just reached out to a student who was so much easier to ignore. She didn't look around to make sure that I or anyone saw her kindness. She just did it to be kind.

So when I hear about how selfish this next generation is, I always think of Lisa Lopez. I'm glad to be reminded that teenagers can still be gentle with each other.

Every so often.

10 comments:

Kati said...

That's right, us teenagers weren't so bad (or is it "we teenagers"?). Perfect little angels, albeit really funny...

I love it when you post about your high school teaching days! You should see it now, they're putting a huge addition on the front, adding a stadium and concession stands to the football field, it will all be really nice when it's done. And yet it will probably still have that homey bat smell that everyone is so fond of...

Cathy said...

Thank you for your comments, it is good for all of us to be reminded, there is good everywhere, sometimes we all have to put on those "rose-colored glasses" to find it!

JustRandi said...

There's nobody more fun to be with than teenagers who are polite and have a sense of who they are!

Beck said...

Oh, this was good to read.

a Tonggu Momma said...

The Husband and I led a teen small group for six years... and, the funny thing was, they lived lives that most of us can't imagine. Even sifting through all of the "teen drama and exaggerations" you knew that having three step-fathers before age 16 really impacts you greatly. Very few of our teens lived stereotypical lives. They were hurting.

Carol said...

Heidi, I can only imagine the utter glee you felt everytime you uttered the words left-eye.

So true what you're saying though, there are hellions and there are angels and that goes for fully grown adults as wellnot just the teens, tweens and kids.

The Rookie said...

It just makes me smile. I had been dreading the approaching school year and consequential end of summer and then I remembered how much I really do like these people I get to work with every day. Adolescents keep me on my toes and teach me day after day that you simply can't know a person by looking at their outer-shell. Given enough time, they will show you who they really are--and 9 times out of 10 it is someone pretty dang wonderful.

janel said...

So is THIS why English teachers still give out group assignments time after time? It's not to punish all kids, but give them a chance to show their Good Samaritan sides??? : ) I enjoy reading your blog--I'm an avid lurker here, referred over by Melissa Huff.

Yvonne said...

Hooray for students like Lisa Lopez!

So many of these kids are just trying to figure out who they are--and when they figure it out, it's so wonderful.

Let me just tell you, as a parent, how grateful I am for the wonderful teachers that my kids had who helped them along their journey through those difficult high school years. (BTW I did thank the teachers, too ; )

heather said...

Love this post. Oh, how I hope my boys are the Left Eyes of the world one day... (:
Really, I love your stories and insights...
I was one a couple of days and am catching up on all da blogs.
I hope your trip went all right as a lone parent. WOW. I don't know if I could do it!