Sometimes I wonder if the amount I write about my own adolescence is weird for a normal adult. I’ve been out of high school for 10 years now. I have a wonderful marriage, a strong career, and a life that I’m proud of. Shouldn’t I be able to leave my teen years behind me?
But then, there’s that career. That career puts me in the path of adolescents on a daily basis (when I’m employed, anyway). That career prompted me to start a blog whose readership consists significantly of teens. That career drives my sense of purpose, my mission, and my passion. In order to be good at what I do, I need to understand teenagers. My point of reference for that is my own adolescent years, so I keep going back to them, keep trying to understand the cause-and-effect of what brought me to where I am, keep trying to remember not just what happened, but how those years felt, and keep trying to hold on to what it was like to process the world with a teenage mind.
Because the fact of the matter is that teen brains are developmentally different from adult brains. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, in some ways it’s a very good thing. I spoke some about this on my post “They Grow Up So Fast!… or do they?“, so I don’t really want to go into the details now. My point here is that those differences exist, and if I, as an educator, forget that or start to see those differences in a negative light, I will lose my relevance to my teen students.
There’s an immediacy to the teen years that can only be experienced in the teen years! As adults we can remember it, but we can’t really ever experience it in the same way again. As adults, we can see teen heartbreak with the perspective of years and smile and say “Oh, they’ll get over it.” And they will, but that’s not what they want to hear. I know this by remembering my own teenage heartbreak, my own tears shed in that high school bathroom while feeling like my world had fallen apart. Yes, looking back I can see it was silly, but in the moment? It wasn’t silly at all, and I would’ve hated any teacher who belittled my pain.
I write about my teen years because it’s all I have to relate to my students. Writing about those years not only helps me understand them better, but it also keeps those years preserved in my mind so that I can go back to them as I age and still remember what it’s like to be a teenager. With all that I’ve experienced in the years since adolescence, all the friendships and love and travel and life, it would be easy to let those high school years slip into distant memory and say “thank God that’s over.” But I don’t want to do that.
I don’t want to forget the intensity of those emotions, from the awkwardness and identity confusions of 9th grade to that strange senior year laced with popularity and heartache. I don’t want to forget the light-hearted laughter or the feeling of my breath being knocked out of me in fear, frustration, and anger. I want to remember my irritation so I can avoid the mistakes my teachers made when they flattered me or proudly shared my curve-breaking grades with the class without my permission. I want to hold on to the value of seemingly pointless inside jokes that became the ties that bound friendships together. I want to know just how seriously I should take it when a 17-year-old girl cries in the back in of my classroom. I need to. I was her once, after all.
One of my strengths in the classroom has always been my ability to quickly build strong rapport with my students. And I mean quickly. Students claim me as their favorite sub after one day in their classrooms. Students who have me for a longer period of time build attachments to me that range from fun and sweet to extremely emotional. And it’s not because I’m easy or some kind of pushover. I’m not. I stick to the lessons and enforce the rules and am a fairly tough grader. But I can connect with the teens in my classroom, and they like me for it. Honestly, that’s probably the trait that’s kept me employed as I’ve moved from state to state, so I can’t afford to lose it.
So I remember and I write about it and I hope that I don’t come across as stuck in my own past, because I’m not. I live every day in the present God has given me, and I love it. I also know that in my career, I have an opportunity to make a difference, so I do everything I can to make sure I don’t lose my relevance to the teens who cross my path. I try to understand my own teen years so that in some small way, I can understand theirs and help them through it.