I got a letter today from a former student. She is off in Boot Camp now, running around getting stinky and blowing things up. I have quite a few former students who are off in the military now.
While I think that the boot camp experience will do them a world of good, I also hope that they do not get sent off on some stupid & ill-conceived adventure that some politician cooks up.
I don't know why so many students still keep in contact with me. There are quite a few. In fact, some of them are now adults, and I am fortunate enough to call them my friends. Still, I really don't know why they choose to keep in so much contact with me of all people.
I think that being a teenager is hard. The teen years are the shortest period in a person's life. yet they are certainly the most topsy-turvy. You start out as a midget. Then life hands you puberty...with various starts & stops for most. Then comes BODY HAIR!!!!!!!! (And always in the most awkward of places at the worst possible time.) Zits follow with a vengeance shortly there after.
If you are a boy, your teen years are driven by testosterone. The average Junior High boy resembles a puppy; All feet and ears...with shaggy hair. Your voice begins to change at embarrassing times. The girls tower over you for years. You tend to become "Aroused" when the wind blows...and often in front of relatives. ("Aunt Betty!?!? I'm really, really sorry.") You desperately want to be "Cool" in the eyes of your peers. And being cool usually requires you to choose idiocy for a prolonged period of time.
In a few years, the teen boy will make the required attempt to become "Buff." (If not, he will willingly slide into the obscurity of the minor cliques, where various forms of geekiness are given coolness status in their own special way.) Being buff demonstrates to all that you are a suitable mate/date for girls on the same social rung that you are vainly attempting to cling to and climb.
It should be noted that the most convenient way to demonstrate your "Buffness" is to pick on, and torment, other males who are weaker and more vulnerable than you. People who are weaker than you deserve what they get because they are not YOU!
This understanding is a must, and perfectly natural. How else will the species progress if those who are different are not tormented at all times so that you can make your fragile ego feel better for a few fleeting moments?
If you are a girl, your teen years are subjected to all manner of torture that boys unknowingly reinforce. Girls begin to develop earlier than boys do. In Junior High, the teen girl of the species will begin to sprout airbags. At first glance, the boys of the same age will mock the girl for these protrusions. However, with in the first year of this sighting, the boys will soon grow fondly attached to the sight of these new wonders. Soon, the boys will pine with each other for days at the public swimming pool, where such marvels of nature may be gawked at in all manner of inappropriate ways.
The girl may unwittingly learn that her value is to be found in how much pleasure, either actual or mental, she can offer to the boys. As she gets older, the teen girl may come to believe that she is not a separate entity, with a mind of it's own and abilities to match. Instead, the girl may come to believe that it is her destiny to fulfill someone else's desires & wants. As such, girls often choose a poor path thanks to peer pressure. At best, these paths lead to a variety of regrets. At worst...well, never mind.
Anyway, I think you get the idea.
I've worked with some interesting kids. ADHD, Aspergers Syndrome, LD, Emotional Behavior Disorder, kids from very bad families, kids from great families...but they are just goofy kids. I haven't had a weapon pulled on me yet. But you never know. I may get lucky some day. I've also worked with kids who simply defy any proper definition.
I find it odd, but there is not a day that goes by that I do not think about students who have come through my classrooms. I'm not sure what that says about me.
When I think about my former & current students, a story from the Old Testament comes to mind. In fact, it seems that almost anytime I am interacting with a teenager, this story comes to mind. (1 Samuel 15:-16:13)
It has to do with YHWH rejecting Saul as king of Israel. God became fed up with this adult who kept disobeying him. So YHWH decides that he will pick a "Man after my own heart." to be king. He sends Sam the Prophet off to Bethlehem to anoint a new king for Israel from Jesse's family. Long story short, Jesse brings his kids in for Sam to take a look at. Sam lays eyes on Jesse's oldest son and thinks he must be the one. (Eliab, the oldest guy, was impressive and "Buff.") But then YHWH says something very interesting to Sam.
"...YHWH said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but YHWH looks at the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7)
You can read the rest for yourself. Suffice it to say that God picked a young teenage boy to be king over Israel. (Many scholars think that David was probably a Red Head, too. So he even had that as a disadvantage.) And from the line of that king came Jesus.
It's difficult to be a teenager. There is a lot of pressure and stress in those short years. A lot of mistakes that you can't erase can happen in that time. You can have some great memories from that time...and I certainly do. But you can also have some no-so-good memories. (I was fortunate not to have too many.) As I said, it's difficult to be a teenager.
When given a chance, I like to point this story out to teens. I think that it is perhaps the most relevant one that they could hear from the Bible for their day to day lives. God doesn't care all that much about the "Buffness," the airbags, the zits, or how cool you appear in the eyes of some 16 yr. old with Ricotta Cheese stuffed between their eras.
But he does care a great deal about the heart.
If I "Like" teens, then God "LOVES" them. He sees his image in them, and so he cares a great deal about them. He wants teens to find their true value by looking to him. I think that if the average teen could see themselves the way that God sees them, they would feel a massive load of stress leave their shoulders. (Maybe some zits would go away too.)
I think that if teens...my students included, could see themselves the way God does, they would "cease their striving." If they could see things God's way, they would see that he loves them JUST as they are, but also loves them so much that he will not leave them AS they are.
If my students, current & former, and ALL teens could see themselves the way that Jesus sees them, they would know how beautiful they really are.
They ARE loved, and they ARE beautiful.
And this is their song.
If any former student should read this, know that you really, really are beautiful...and you are loved by someone who is a much better teacher than I will ever be.
If any former student should read this, know that you will always have my thanks for teaching me more than I could ever teach you.
You are beautiful.