Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Unsolicited advice

As a teacher who has, over the course of my career, taught roughly 12,000 students, I feel obligated today to share some advice with you.  "You" might be a parent, a teenager, a fellow teacher, or none of the above. You might agree or disagree with what I have to say.  This advice comes from a place in my heart that is tired of seeing teenagers commit suicide.  It's not an explanation, or an answer; it's a hope.

1.  When you teach a child that everyone is a winner, no one wins.  The accomplishments of the children who do excel are diminished, and the children who don't excel are taught that it's such an abomination to not succeed that it's simply not allowed.  Imagine if, rather than reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator, the adults in children's lives said "Listen, you come in last place in every race you run in.  Let's stop spending your time running--you're not good at it, and that's okay.  Let's find something you ARE good at, and spend our time and money building your strength, rather than hiding your weakness."

2.  It's okay to feel sad.  Even for no reason at all.  No one questions why someone is happy.  There's no medication for people who are happy all the time.  Guess what? Some people have really good reasons to be unhappy.  ALL of us, at some point in life, will have a good reason to be unhappy.  Be okay with it.  You can feel sad when you make a mistake, when you say goodbye, when you hurt someone, or when you hurt yourself.  Don't question it.  Feel it.  And don't let anyone tell you to cheer up, to get over it, or to stop dwelling.  Remember--no one will ever say to you "Jeez, do you really have to be such an upper all the time?" Sadness is the same emotion as happiness--it comes from the same place, and it disappears just as happiness does, if you give it the chance.

3.   You will have to say goodbye. Practice it when it doesn't matter, so you can survive it when it does matter.  When I was a senior in high school, around April, my whole class suddenly looked around and thought "God, I may never see any of these people ever again."  And we began to cling to each other.  I talked to people I hadn't talked to since we argued over the last swing in preschool.  It was horrible.  And thank goodness.  Because about 3 months after graduation, I began to recover from the loss of that familiar routine.  And about a year after graduation, I realized that I was going to be just fine.  So, when my grandma died, when my favorite professor died, and when I experienced my first death of a student, I knew I would be unhappy (see #2), but I also knew I'd be okay.  Why? Because I had said goodbye before...and I was okay every time I did it.

4.   School is important, and parents need to support it (even if they don't always like it).  Try this:  assign your child the task of doing the dishes for an hour a day, every day, for 9 months, and cleaning the toilet for an hour a day, every day, for 9 months.  And, because you're not completely cruel, give them an hour a day to play a sport they love.  Watch what happens.  Listen to them grumble about washing dishes and cleaning the toilet.  Let them be on their own for a bit.  Then, after a few weeks, stand next to them and say the following: "Man, I don't know why you have to do this either.  I haven't cleaned a toilet in 20 years.  After this 9 months, you'll never need to do this again, just get through it."
Your kids listen to you.  They listen when you diminish their need to do math or to read a particular book you hated in high school. They listen to you when you decide a week's vacation is more important than being in their classes.  They listen to you when you say that their school isn't worth your tax dollars, or that you can't believe these teachers want more money.  Do you think they'll disagree with you?  They won't...because you're who they trust above all others.  And when you wonder why "these teachers" can't be more inspirational or better at their jobs, know that, for every student, there's a subject equivalent to cleaning a toilet, to doing dishes, and to playing a sport they love.  Some teachers will make your child want to clean toilets for a living; they're that good.  Others, most, will simply teach your child how to clean a toilet well enough that they see that a job well done--any job--is fulfilling, and, finally, that some jobs, no matter how unpleasant, just need to get done.

So ends my lecture.  It saddens me that we seem to be raising teenagers that are all perfect, that are never supposed to feel unhappy,who never have to suffer any sort of loss, and who can blame any shortcomings on their teachers, their parents, or their biology.  Make mistakes.  Own what you do wrong.  Be sad.  LIVE!  It's the one job we have to do around here.

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