As a high school teacher, the things that you hear from students are often more heart felt, heart warming, heart wrenching, and heart breaking than the things you see. My eyes are continually opened to the soul of many students, those in my classroom and those not, those thriving and those struggling.
My class is currently doing extensive research on controversial topics in society. This research is in preparation for a large debate, showcasing their persuasive and argumentative skills. Throughout this research, I have merely been a facilitator, allowing the teams to determine what information and skills are necessary to ultimately provide the strongest case on debate day.
Allowing such controversial topics into my classroom has allowed me to really sit and listen. Listen to their opinions, their stances, their beliefs, their outlook. These topics impact my students in a way that I would never know unless I let the real world enter into my classroom. My students may not be able to vote, may not be able to drive a car (just yet), may not be able to run the dishwasher (or pretend they don’t know how), but they sure do have a lot to say about what is going on in the world around them. These kids are knowledgeable and curious to learn more about topics such as: abortion, human cloning, the death penalty, Planned Parenthood, immigration, ISIS, is Donald Trump going to deport everyone…you name it, they want to talk about it, research it, formulate an opinion, look at the disturbing images, talk about it again, and take action.
“This is disturbing.”
“I’ve started a petition to ban abortions in our county.”
“Global warming is not a terrorist threat. Here are my facts to support this statement.”
“Wow. I can’t even imagine.”
“Immigrants are people, too, ya know, people who need America’s brotherhood. Whether they’re from Syria or South America. But, is the US law upheld?”
“The legalization of this drug is going to encourage youth to become addicted.”
“Are you really telling me that taxing our parents more is worth a free education?”
“Since our population is growing, we need to encourage people to accept employment anywhere to avoid looking to other countries to support our jobs.”
“I’m struggling to find a reason to agree with this.”
“How can I get involved?”
“Can you put me in touch with this organization so I can help?”
“This hurts my heart.”
This is just a small, small portion of what I hear. There is honest concern and compassion here.
This time in our school year is one of the most active and participant heavy units. As a teacher, I don’t want to tell them to stop talking. Stop researching. Stop formulating an opinion. Instead, we need to look at your data to tell you that you still can’t write a strong introduction paragraph. We need to learn how to put footnotes in your Google doc. We need to practice navigating the online testing system so you can actually finish the test this time. These kids are more than a traditional public schooling pathway. They are citizens. They are members of society and this time of the year in my classroom is real, authentic, honest, emotional, and eye opening. For me. For the kids.
Yes, they are teenagers. Yes, the complexity of teaching teenagers is often undefinable, exhausting, and sometimes impossible. Often society rolls their eyes at them or demands excellence of our teenagers in the classroom and on the field. But, being a teenager, they have a lot more to say and a broader understanding of their world than what you might expect, if you let them explore and listen to them. Listen to how passionate they want to be. And yes, they are passionate. Listen to how compassionate they want to be. And yes, they are compassionate. Listen to how much they strive to make a difference. And yes, many will make a difference that none of us ever will.
Listen. Your ears will thank you.