Tuesday, April 20, 2010

With Great Power . . . .

I know I tend to talk about my job a lot here. In fact, next to my blathering about American Idol every week (sorry, folks, it's an obsession!), I would guess I talk more about my job than anything else. What can I say? When it comes right down to it, I suppose you could say I'm married to my job, and I've come to the realization over the course of the past couple years that I'm okay with that. I chose a job that does consume a lot of my time and energy, but it also offers a lot of rewards that don't involve just a paycheck every two weeks. I have a tremendous creative platform on which I get to play every single day, I get to guide students toward skills that will serve them the rest of their lives, and I have the opportunity to mentor young people through a particularly challenging time in their lives -- adolescence.

This school year has not been kind to many of the students in my school. We've had the usual array of teen dramas -- crushed romances, broken friendships, tense relationships at home. We've also had several kids dealing with things they shouldn't have to deal with at this young age. Two senior girls within the past six months have lost parents very suddenly. One girl had a mother die the day after Christmas. Another girl had a father die in a motorcycle accident over the weekend. Last week, two of my Drama/Speech kids had grandparents pass away. We've had two recent graduates killed this year. The students of my school have had a lot put on their shoulders emotionally, and while it's a tough thing to witness, it's also been pretty inspiring to see the strength they've demonstrated, strength I suspect even they didn't realize they possess.

Sometimes, though, that strength wavers. Saturday night, I found myself suddenly playing counselor to two girls who were clearly struggling with emotional demons. One was still in the midst of mourning a grandparent who died very suddenly compounded with a relationship with her parents that can be described as rocky at best. Another was in the middle of an argument with a friend, an argument that resulted in the friend hurling some rather hurtful (and untrue) accusations. Throughout the evening, I found myself offering advice, comfort, et cetera, and more than once I found myself thinking, "Who the heck am I to be doling out this advice??" The sudden sense of overwhelming responsibility I felt was staggering, compounded even more so the next evening when the other side of the friend argument texted me to apologize for what he had said to his friend and to seek some advice on how to proceed with her. He said to me, "For a lot of us, you're the first adult we go to when we need help."

For once, I was speechless. There's a part of me that still feels like a kid myself. I struggle with the fact that I'm pushing 40 if only because it feels like I JUST turned 21 a few weeks ago. I don't feel all that different from that kid. Oh, sure, there are some physical things I notice -- like the fact that I need reading glasses to read at night (stupid Dan Brown's book has small print . . . right??) or that I get a little achey after hours spent out in the garden. But there's something a bit daunting about being an adult in the eyes of these kids. I think back to those teachers I had in high school to whom I would turn when it felt like the world was crashing in on me. Looking back on it, those teachers I trusted and respected and idolized the most were probably just about the same age I am now -- probably younger. I wonder if they were as overwhelmed with the responsibility of being them as I sometimes feel. And it also makes me want to get in touch with some of them and thank them because surely I would never have been able to be that person for my students if they had not been that person for me.


Mike said...

I think you should insist on MHS pumping Madonna over the PA system; that'll fix things and cheer everybody up.

But seriously, I've said it before and I'll say it again, those kids are damn lucky to have you.

Danielle Mari said...

And even a few weeks after your 21st birthday, you were (and still are) one of the wisest people I know. Your students can sense it.