When I first interviewed for my teaching position at Heartland, one of the questions during my interview was about respect within the classroom. I can't remember my exact answer or the exact question, but the idea was that to gain the respect of my students I had to give them mine. That was my theory.
To me, the days of demanding or commanding anything from anyone are long gone. The youth and next generation coming up are sharp enough to know what they can get away with. They read us like books and act accordingly. I have always been aware of that in young adults. So while that was probably a great interview answer, it was also the belief in my heart.
I love children. I love babies. I love relationships with any age of human being. But the relationships built with teenagers and young adults are by far the most precious relationships I can ever build or will ever build in my entire life. They are experiencing a fundamental time in their lives. They are growing and becoming young adults and are forming many of the characteristics, patterns, traits and habits that will guide the rest of their life. And I am just another adult. As a teacher, they can take or leave me. They don't need me, generally speaking. I am there to serve one basic purpose in many adolescent minds. I teach them.
I am their teacher. At least that's how I start. And I'm not really a normal teacher. That weird, unnamed phenomenon in classrooms where there is some barrier blocking out true human interaction and replacing it with all that is black or white, yes or no or right or wrong.. well that doesn't exist. We act and interact based on the other human beings in the room. The transition from where we start to where we end up is bumpy, ugly and makes me cry a lot. I lose sleep and LIKE A LOT OF TEARS because I know they don't get it yet. Yet.
But they always get there. Some groups at different paces. Some take just a month or two to adjust to this new norm. Some take a year and a half. They are ugly around me. They don't listen the first time they are asked to do something. They talk over me. They tell me it's so comfortable in this space that I have created that they let go of all that stress and build up of the rest of their lives. So when I ask them to please listen to me for the one millionth time, they look at me with these eyes that tell me they hear me, they respect me, and then we get our work done. Once I'm through that brain barrier, they give me their all, and we get our stuff done. I know them. They know me. I'm as human as I can be, as transparent as possible, so that when they know me, they know a real human being was up there and giving so much of herself to them because she cares so much about them as people.
I've answered boy questions, phrased professional messages to their employers, done hair for prom, done makeup for prom, I've hugged and cried, and gotten after a certain few of them a million more times than it seems like it should have been necessary. But it was. I have suggested prom dresses, shared outfit secrets, makeup secrets, hair secrets. I've suggested hair cuts and told many smelly boys to shower twice a day.
I have been lost in learning, in laughter, in sharing life with these "teenagers" who have changed my entire life. On my worst days, I got to be held up by the simple fact that I felt like I was making a difference in their lives. Not just any lives of any teenagers. But in their lives. These most perfect human beings with the whole world at their feet just make me think of the abundance this life has to offer if we just look at it.
They met me where they were at and I met them where I was. It took some time and some adjustments but I know in the deepest part of my heart and the richest part of my soul that we did good work and we made a lot of life magic together.
Today I shared with them that I would not be coming back next year. I knew I had to do it in the moment I wasn't feeling as emotional about it all as I had been feeling. But the moment I saw faces turn and eyes get red and well up with tears, I knew that the good work I have been praying that I do, must have been happening even when it didn't feel like it. And so it was then they saw me cry for probably the millionth time.
The moral of the story is this: Sometimes you don't do what other people do and that can make you feel like you aren't doing something right. I always did what felt right in my heart, even if it wasn't what everyone else was doing. And it worked. It worked.
If you are an educator or thinking about becoming one. Priority number one: be a lover. Just love them how you love them (it might look different for everyone) and let them know you care about them and how special you think they are. Because they are so special, I promise you.
To my big babies: I love each and every one of you so much more than you will ever know. You have made my life abundant, my cup runneth over and my heart burst with joy and happiness. Thank you for opening your hearts and minds up to me and all of my crazy. I know in my heart of hearts that you will do such amazing things in this world. Always know that I am always here in the same way I have always been. And please, make good choices. xoxo