Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Kindness of Teenagers

The banner students created for my Mom while I was away, thanks to the guidance of my colleague

They say the highest form of wisdom is kindness, and this past week, I experienced it from all angles, but most impressively from my students.

My incredible dad passed away two weeks ago after an unexpected Stage IV small cell cancer diagnosis. It was a rare and viciously aggressive form, and his death came a mere two weeks after the initial diagnosis.

Returning to school, returning to a new norm, and grappling with the why’s, the what if’s, and connecting all of the disparate dots after such loss can only be described as surreal.

Once again, however, my students have much to teach me. They, too, have endured loss, the resultant shifting perspectives, and the constant battle to make sense of what has happened and how it connects to what they need to do.

Each of my students wrote heartfelt cards to me, with wisdom, verbal hugs, and insightfully appropriate humor. My colleague encouraged and guided them to create a banner of thoughts and quotes for my mom, who they know is suffering on a different level.

You see, I used to not open myself up to my students. My educational experiences shaped my initial teaching beliefs where you went to school, kept everything personal at the door’s threshold, and when necessary, acted on autopilot as if nothing were amiss. My first year of teaching blew those beliefs out of the water. My first students (they were high school students) were curious, asked questions, wondered, and showed me that indeed I could find a sweet spot of the personal and professional. Those were powerful lessons they never knew they taught me. 

My classroom was, and has been, all the richer. I learned that my students are a delightful diversion when I am having a bad day. They have the power to put my own ills into perspective, cheer me up, and otherwise help me appreciate a different way of looking at things.

Kindness is an incredible form of both strength and wisdom, topics of discussion in our classroom this week. Yes, these are high school students, but their kindness and strength bely the losses they have endured. They also negate many of the myths of selfish teens. They have experienced rethinking life anew, and have begun a journey of shaping their new selves. Their notes to me displayed genuine kindness as they applied their hard-won knowledge of life’s lessons to help me make sense of my own loss.

Kindness as the highest form of wisdom?  Our kids have got it. Now, to keep tapping into that throughout the year, and to remember that every single student truly does bring their own gifts to our classrooms, no matter the language they speak or their level of expressive ability.


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