This I Believe

Paula - Northfield, Minnesota
Entered on May 28, 2007

For more than three decades I have gone to work every day with a smile on my face. On the drive home as I’ve pondered the discussions and conversations of the day, my smile is always just as broad as it was in the morning. Sometimes after I get home the smile fades a bit as I face the mountain of homework I must finish by the following morning, but I get it done because —– I believe in teenagers.

As a person who has faced few serious problems, I am continually amazed at the grace and strength with which my students confront harsh dilemmas in their young lives — the terminal illness of a mom, the suicide of a cousin, the effects of the stroke on Dad, the move from a comfortable home to a small apartment when parents lose jobs, the mental disorders of their siblings or themselves, the instability caused by the breakup of parents.

I believe in the grace and strength and adaptability of teenagers. I am astounded by their ability to do high-quality homework, to attain A’s and B’s on tests, and to write thoughtful essays in the midst of conflicted personal lives and lives of busyness that rival the most demanding adult schedules.

I believe in the critical thinking abilities and common sense wisdom of teenagers. I believe in their realistic yet optimistic approaches to local and world problems. I believe in their strong sense of fairness and in their ongoing development of individualism in a society that often promotes conformity.

Finally, I believe in their sincere compassion for others who face loss — whether for the family of their friend who died in a car accident or for their teacher whose mother died unexpectedly.

Of course, I became a teacher all those years ago to help students learn and grow and reach the next level. The truth is that thousands of teenagers have nudged, prodded, pushed, cajoled, and questioned until they have transformed me into the person they needed me to be — and as my date to begin retirement draws near, I smile and note with gratitude that I am happy with the result of their molding.