This I Believe

Angelica - Grand Forks, North Dakota
Entered on September 6, 2007

I believe in puberty.

Eight hours a day, nine months a year, I spend my days teaching in the dynamic cauldron of hormones called middle school. Friends old and new often shake their head and comment about my patience, my sanity and my likely candidacy for sainthood; but I’ll let you in on a secret–if I was independently wealthy, I’d teach for free.

Puberty is the great equalizer that turns our children into–well…us. And although their bodies are growing as exponentially as the volume of their music, I believe that they are also progressing at this same amazing rate on the inside. It takes time to become the person they know they should be; yet their internal compasses point true and they keep sailing toward their better selves.

My students can be self-absorbed, but only to the extent that their experiences haven’t yet taught them that it’s more fulfilling not to be. Trying on the faces of belligerence and reticence, they learn that both words and silence have tremendous power. As they constantly look for approval on the faces of their peers and especially in the mirror, how can I blame them? Puberty is like their own personal, four-year train wreck–it’s hard to look away.

A student of mine who was once a squirmy, smelly, spastic, bespectacled, pubescent mess came back to visit me as a serene, showered, sane, contact-lens-wearing articulate adult. When I asked him what he thought was the most important thing young people should learn in school he said, “How to be yourself without trying too hard.” Your sensei thanks you, young grasshopper.

I believe in puberty. My youngsters come to me as children and leave their childhood behind when they go. They stumble, yes; but mostly they succeed. They are, and are becoming inquisitive, inclusive, thoughtful, honest, hilarious, principled people. How blessed I am to be along for the ride.