Someone Other Than Miley

Alright, I’ll take the bait.  I wasn’t going to write about Miley’s and Robin’s infamous VMA performance, because quite frankly, I didn’t want to give it an ounce more recognition than it deserves.  I realize I live in a world where I can’t walk through a grocery checkout line without learning something new about one of the Kardashians or the latest member of The Bachelor cast.  What I haven’t figured out is why I should care about that stuff.  But this particular event has crossed the bounds of gossip magazines into even my pop-culturally-ignorant consciousness.  And so, since this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge is about this topic, and since I’ve built my platform on the potential for greatness in young people, here I am, adding my two cents to a topic that I’d rather let slip quietly into oblivion.

Miley Cyrus left a mark on the world with her performance that day.  She made people notice her and talk about her.  It may not be positive attention, but no one can deny that the eyes of the world are fixed on her for the moment.  In America’s outrage, they’ve plastered Miley’s twerking body all over the news and in front of my eyes.  I didn’t watch the VMAs, and yet I’m still inundated with her tongue-wagging image.  But to those outraged at her performance, I have a request.

Keep reading, and I promise to only say Miley one more time!

Remarkable Teens: Mike

*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

Remarkable Teens: Alana

*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

Remarkable Teens: Landon

*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

Remarkable Teens: Jacob

*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

Remarkable Teens: An Introduction

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