Victor, Alonzo, and David
Meet Victor, Alonzo, and David, collectively known as V.A.D. All seniors in high school, these three young men have taken on the challenge of training for and then competing in a 70.3 Ironman. They are doing this with no similar experience and no previous training to give them a boost in their preparations. The challenge they’ve taken on is insane – and they’re doing it for a good cause.
For those who don’t know (which included me until about a year ago), a 70.3 Ironman, also know as a Half Ironman, is a triathlon. The boys will have to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles. Their trainer is a veteran triathlete who qualified for the 70.3 Ironman world championships in Las Vegas this past year, so the boys are in good hands in the months leading up to the race. That being said, they certainly have their work cut out for them!
Maybe I should have been offended by the skeptical look on his face.
“Mrs. Roberson, they put you in here?”
I looked up from the squirming preschoolers that surrounded me and raised an eyebrow at the sixteen-year-old student filling the doorway. All I said was, “I know, right?”
“You want me to come in and help?”
I gratefully nodded, and I marveled at his ease as he swept in the room and took control, the way I do with a high school class.
You see, I know my strengths, but I also know my limitations, and I’ll freely admit those limitations to my high school students. Put me in a room full of hormone-crazed, slightly rebellious teenagers and tell me to teach them something, and I’ll rock that job. I’ll have a blast doing it, too. But ask me to teach anyone younger than 6th grade, and I start to get nervous. Any younger than 3rd grade, and I’m completely out of my element. Joshua* knew this, so his skepticism was warranted when he saw I’d been assigned to watch the preschool class for an hour while the administration met with the Early Ed. department. And he was way better at managing those kiddos than I was, so I really appreciated his help.
*Names have been changed.
Mike didn’t look like a kid that should be the subject of a blog post about remarkable teens. Mike had issues with authority and dealt with conflict by becoming surly and angry. However, he also defined some of the most interesting moments of my career, and whenever I think about him I smile. I think I would be a different teacher – or at least a different sub – if I had never met Mike. I already wrote one story about him (Drop the Double Standard! …Please?), but I decided it was time to give him his own “Remarkable Teens” post.
I met Mike on my very first day of substitute teaching. I had completed my first year of full-time teaching the year before, but then my husband and I moved to Seattle and subbing was the only work I could find. I worked for the educational division of Kelly Services, so sometimes I knew nothing about the schools where I would sub before I showed up for work that day. Mike attended a small, private school about 30 minutes outside of Seattle, and if I had known that the school catered to high-functioning students with special needs, I might not have agreed to take the job that day. Their student body was filled with various degrees of ADHD, autism, emotional/ behavioral problems, and learning disabilities. I didn’t know any of this until I showed up, but thankfully, the teacher whose classes I was covering was taking a class on a field trip that day, so I had a chance to speak with her before she left. She went over her lesson plans and gave me tips on how to handle certain situations. In particular, she warned me about Mike. Continue reading
*Names have been changed.
I can’t come up with a new name for her. No other name seems to fit, to do justice to her unique balance of tough tomboyish vulnerability. I tried the nickname she claimed for herself, but that seemed too goofy for her depth. I tried a name that rhymes with her real name, or begins with the same letter, and none of them seem right. But I have to call her something, so I’ve decided on Alana.
Alana was one of the few students I’ve had that reminded me of myself, but only once you got passed the surface. On the surface, Alana was a skateboard loving, baseball-hat wearing, dress-hating tomboy. She had an infectious laugh, but she could ooze “bad attitude” when she wanted to. She kept her hair braided back like the boys in the class, and dress-down days saw her in baggy jeans and t-shirts, which contrasted strongly to the fashion statements that were her female classmates, including her older sister.
That was the surface, an image she presented to the world to protect the vulnerable 14-year-old girl underneath. Continue reading
*Names have been changed.
As much as Jacob tugged on my heartstrings, I really should have written about Landon first, because Landon was the embodiment of everything I’ve been saying over the past few months. In some ways, he was the first indication of the direction my career would ultimately take. You see, Landon was my first breakthrough, my first victory in the world of teen strengths.
I met Landon when I was a fresh-out-of-college newbie teacher, and he was a senior in my British Literature class. On the surface, Landon was your average “nice guy.” He was a lineman on the football team, a solid B student, and had a wonderful core group of friends. He’d mastered the world of high school pretty well without necessarily becoming the Big Man on Campus (which is perfectly fine, in my book). He and I got along well. He was respectful, and I never had to discipline him in class. He was a hard worker, and I celebrated his excitement when he pulled his grade up to an A-.
Then he asked for my help on his college application essay. Continue reading
*Names have been changed.
Jacob is probably the wrong choice for me to begin this series, but I can’t help it. I think the common perception of Jacob is wrong; I don’t think the world truly understands what it is that makes this kid absolutely incredible. See, Jacob is already celebrated as remarkable. Teachers praise him all the time, his peers know him as one of the “smart” ones, and his parents push him to do extraordinary things on a daily basis. Also, Jacob isn’t a teenager yet. He was in 6th grade when I knew him last year. So why would I choose to write about him, when I said I’d be writing about teenagers?
Honestly? Jacob is one of my favorites. I’ll admit it. He tugs at my heartstrings. But not because he’s a good student or polite or all those things that usually get a kid labelled a “teacher’s pet” (though he is all those things). Rather, Jacob and I connected because I saw something else in him, and I think he was dying for someone to see something else. He’s an example of what happens when schools pigeon-hole their own students. Most people saw a young man that was respectful, worked hard, and had mastered a high school level understanding of math and science in 6th grade. All of that is true, but when we encounter a kid like that, we run the risk of not looking any further, confining him to a box of just being smart and good at math and science. But I was his English teacher, so I was privileged to see something else. Continue reading
I realized as I wrote my last post that my current topic of reflecting on my assessment results is pretty darn egocentric. I mean, let’s be honest. All I really did was write about myself. I think it still has purpose because I truly am exploring the assessment in the name of researching strengths-based education. I do need to write these reflections because I need to understand the vocabulary and the life application of StrengthsFinding before I can help bring it to high schoolers. But this blog isn’t supposed to be just about me, and I want to make sure that the focus remains on preparing teens for life.
To that end, I’ve decided to start a “Remarkable Teens” section to this blog. I find myself saying over and over again that teenagers are remarkable, but I want others to see what I see. Every classroom I’ve entered has been filled with special, unique kids, and I’m not just talking about the obvious: the 4.0 valedictorians, athletic stars, and artistic prodigies that are singled out as special. I see it in all of them, even the ones that test my patience and make the classroom just a little bit more difficult to manage, the ones that never turn in their work, and the ones that break my heart.
Now, teachers who say they don’t have favorites are lying. We’re human beings, and we will always been drawn to some individuals more than others. Continue reading