“A man among children will long be a child. A child among men will soon be a man.” – Thomas Fuller, 1732
Ask almost any teacher, and they’ll tell you how they often crave adult conversations at the end of the day. As rewarding as our work is, there’s something odd about spending the entire day among a younger generation of non-peers. I find so much joy in my work with teens, but even in my most fulfilling, exciting workdays, I need to talk to an adult afterwards. That may simply mean stopping by a coworker’s classroom to swap stories. It may mean a dinner out to vent frustrations away from the workplace. Maybe it’s a phone call to a close friend or my sister on my drive home. Maybe it’s a Saturday afternoon spent wandering around a local sight with my husband. I’ve clung dearly to my own adult world even as I’ve thrown myself headlong into a passion for helping teens become adults.
As I look around, I realize I’ve been blessed with an amazing peer group. My teacher friends are some of the best teachers you’ll ever meet – experts in their content areas, dedicated to their craft, and invested in their care for their students. We teach at different schools with different specific interests, but that doesn’t matter. We’re good, and I’m blessed to be among their number. I’m starting to realize, though, that I owe at least some part of my success, passion, and drive to them. We push each other, encourage each other, and validate each other. We bounce ideas off one another and then build off those ideas to put our own personal spin on them. Not only is this true with my close college friends, but also in each school I’ve taught in over the years. I find myself drawn to those really good teachers at the school, and I connect with them. I learn from them. They’re so good that sometimes I wonder what they see in me, but they encourage me in my skills, and so I continue to grow and improve. I am a better teacher because of those relationships.
I want that for my teens. The constructive power of positive adult friendship is not limited to adults. I’ve seen it. Teens can thrive among adults, if only given the chance. If you can, find a way to work alongside adults in their world. Become a teen among adults, and you will quickly find that being an adult is awesome!
But the reverse is also true. We’ve all seen that teacher, the “man among children” in the Fuller quote. I know I did when I was in high school. Some of my classmates liked him, but even as he tried to bring me into his group of favorites, I quickly lost my respect for him. I’ve seen teachers like him at other schools, too. They’re the teachers who choose to teach high school mainly because they like hanging out with teens. They strive to be the “cool” teacher at the expense of student education. They spend a noticeable amount of social time outside of school with their students. The student/teacher relationship has replaced positive adult friendships in their lives. I hate to be the one to stereotype, and I know such teachers can also have good qualities, but it’s always hard for me to watch a teacher that is more interested in being friends with their students than they are in teaching them and challenging them. It’s hard to watch teachers sacrifice friendships with adults for the sake of more time with their students.
Teens have enough peers – what they need are adult mentors. Such a teen-obsessed life cannot be healthy for the adult teachers, either. When we allow our work to overrun our adult lives, we run the danger of actually losing some of our impact. I lost respect for my teacher in high school, and that undermined anything he tried to teach me in class. An adult among children will long be a child – and we teachers are called to be more. How can we really show our students the way to adulthood when we’re not living among adults ourselves?
As much as I love my career, I work hard to keep my amazing adult friendships a priority in my life. I’m a better person because I have them. So consider your friends, peers, and mentors carefully. Are they the kind of adults you want to be?