“Why do you like teenagers?”
I was in my final weeks of college. I and my fellow senior Secondary Ed. majors had been pulled out of our student teaching duties for a day of conferences about the practical side of teaching. After four and a half years of education classes, this gray-haired principal sitting across the table from us boiled it all down to one, simple question.
“Why do you like teenagers?”
“Because you have to like teenagers in order to teach teenagers,” he continued, “So tell me why.” He went around the table, asking each one of us for an answer. I already knew mine, but as I sat there listening to my classmates give their answers, I was struck by how different, and yet how accurate each response was.
“Teens are able to discuss deeper issues and grasp more complex concepts than younger students. I enjoy guiding them in that learning process and being able to discuss that higher level of content with them.”
“Teens are in a phase of life where they are finding their individual identities, and it’s exciting to help them figure out who they are and how they’ll grow into adulthood.”
“Teenagers are just plain funny – they say and do random things all the time!”
And then it was my turn.
“Teens have an amazing capacity for passion. If the right teacher can light the fire and help guide and channel that passion, incredible things can happen. It’s so cool to get to be a part of that process.”
I think if I’d paid more attention to my own answer back then, I’d have saved myself a lot of career confusion in the years that followed. God had to work in some crazy ways to shift my focus away from my book-nerd desire to be an English teacher (which I still love doing), and open my eyes to a deeper passion for preparing teens for life. In practical terms, that means I want to get my master’s degree in guidance counseling. I’ve already glimpsed that world some – helping seniors write college application essays and teaching SAT prep and college admissions summer courses. I’ve loved those glimpses and I want to explore it further. But there’s so much more that I want to do that isn’t so tangible, and that’s what I’m here to explore.
The timing is perfect. The school year just ended; I put away the last books and cleaned out my desk yesterday. No more nights spent grading or lesson planning! And I won’t be returning to the school next year because my husband and I will be travelling to the far corners of the country for his career. People keep asking me, “what are you going to be doing while he’s working?” While do I hope to doing some kind of work, I also want to make use of this time to research an idea that’s been on my mind for some time now.
Here’s the idea:
Teenagers are incredible people. Don’t believe me? Proverbs 20:29 says “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.” 1 Timothy 4:12 says “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” Teens are called to action because of their youthful strength, energy, and drive. The rest of 1 Timothy 4 sets out the detailed, difficult path of a leader, and he’s young! Paul didn’t ask if it was too much responsibility or if Timothy would be able to handle it. He encouraged the young man and set high expectations for him.
The teen years should be a time of intense growth and serious, exciting identity exploration. Instead, for many they’ve become a time to goof off and party. And as I look around at my generation – those of us in our mid-to-late twenties – I see the results of that mindset. Schools focused on getting us into college, but no one prepared us for life after academics. No one warned my generation that many of them would spend the years after college unsettled and drifting, moving back into their parents’ homes for years after college, or end up in a career path that had nothing to do with what they studied in college. Thankfully, many of us had parents that sent us the right messages to grow into adults, even when the schools didn’t. But shouldn’t teens, who have this awesome energy and drive to achieve great things, be given the tools launch themselves into the adult world, instead of aimlessly drifting into it?
When helping seniors write their college application essays, I ask the question, “what are your strengths?” Most of them can’t answer me. They know what subjects and extracurriculars they like, but they don’t know their own strengths. Proverbs 20:29 said their glory is in their strengths. Young men and women have the ability to do great things, but if they don’t know their strengths, how can it be their glory?
So that’s what I want to do. I want to give teens those tools to find their strengths and establish themselves as world-changing adults, but I don’t really know how yet. I’ve tossed around a number of ideas for articles, writing a book, programs I would start as a guidance counselor, etc. I have a three-ring binder and a file on a flash drive dedicated to the ideas, drafts, and outlines I’ve already started. But there’s so much that I don’t know yet. I see the problems, but I haven’t zeroed in on the solutions. So I look ahead to next year as a year of research and exploration. Maybe I’ll find some answers. I’ll probably find countless more questions, too. All I know right now is that this blog is a way for me to finally give voice to my ideas and see if there really is an audience for what I have to say.
So why do I like teenagers so much?
I love how teens have the capacity to change the world. And I want to be there to see it.