Most adults would probably never choose to relive high school – memories of that place and time may make us squirm even now – but I believe that all adults would benefit if they returned to high school to teach a class once every year. As a high school teacher, I know that the teenagers I face everyday keep me real, and they keep me inspired.
A teenage audience is one of the most intimidating. They see through pretension and falseness, and they consistently call my bluff – sometimes politely and other times not. Their honesty is raw, but I find it refreshing because so many adults I know are insincere, telling me what I want to hear or telling me something only to get something in return. Almost without fail, a teenager will return respect with respect and disrespect with the like. They have a keen eye for deciphering knowledgeable and capable people, and devouring those who are not. In fact, a teenage audience (and not a handpicked one) would be an excellent requirement for anyone running for political office.
Despite the general impression by the adult world that teenagers are moody, rebellious, and lazy, I find them inspiring. In the insane but real microcosm of high school, I watch them tackle the contradicting truths of life, trying to make sense of a crazy world that adults have either created or are maintaining. In spite of the overbearing pressure in high school to conform, they still fight, albeit often awkwardly, to figure out who they are and what they believe. I am most inspired by those who have figured out how to endure, survive, and even overcome their own upbringing. Whether it is alcohol and drug-induced abuse, selfish and apathetic neglect, or unrealistic and unfair expectations, the pain inflicted by their parents is real and constant for many students. When these students reach my class as seniors, most of them have figured out, because they had to, how to cope with the pain, let go of it, and move on.
Returning to high school once a year, not just to walk through the halls, but actually to interact with the students can do wonders for any adult. In addition to receiving an integrity check and a healthy dose of inspiration, an adult might do well to remember his/her own teenage self – the hope, the courage, the insecurity, and the vulnerability. Do we even remember what we dreamed at that age of becoming as an adult? How far have we drifted from that dream? Did we turn into that adult we swore to ourselves we would never become?
It became clear to me early in my career as a high school English teacher that my students would give me far more knowledge and insight than I could ever hope to impart to them.
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