So I’m more than half way through my high school odyssey and it’s been a little rough. All my life I've had a desire to be close to joy, and an Elementary school is an extremely joyous place. Young children just have a capacity to exist in the moment and find pleasure in small things. High school kids. . . not so much.
As the school year progressed I complained a lot about the differences between the kids in high school and elementary. I told everyone who would listen that these children were not cute anymore. And they're not. I lamented the lack of self control, the sullenness, the constant low level disrespect. But still.
Recently I had a conversation with a child whom I've known since she was in first grade. And here's the thing, I hadn't recognized her at the beginning of the year. In first second and third grade she was not a lovable child. In fact those of us who ushered her out the door in fourth grade had visions of her as the star of a mean girls movie. So imagine my surprise when the light bulb went on and I realized that the quite charming and very personable teenager that I was talking to had been that obnoxious little fourth-grader that I waved so happily out the door.
There have been other surprises this year, too. Some kids who seemed really hyper have turned into serious students. A few boys who terrorized the faculty all through fourth grade have become very nice young men . . . It’s been an object lesson for me, and a good one. They tell me I'll be going back to the elementary school in a year or so and I fervently hope that is true because I still think little kids are cuter than big ones. But I'll be taking a message back to my colleagues over there, and it's this: Sometimes even when you are absolutely certain you can predict how a child will turn out, you can be dead wrong. That one who seems disinterested and maybe a little sullen, can blossom into a curious kid with a surprising interest in technology, little ducklings turn into swans, mean girls find another path, late bloomers come to flower.
Those of us who choose to teach younger kids often say that we do it because that is when you can make the biggest difference. And then we turn around and write children off at 9 years old. I want to remember not to ever do that again. Students tell me all the time that they remember things I told them in elementary school about how to be a friend, how to behave, even how to study. I didn't think some of them were listening; and it's obvious that it took some of them a while to take the lessons on board, but they did. Of course some of them have turned out exactly as you would expect, but so do most of us. And fourteen is hardly the end of the line. I’ve watched them change even in the first half of this year. We forget how very young a high school freshman is; and how much influence adults still have over them (though they would never admit it).
Everyone keep your fingers crossed that I will get back to where I want to be. And in the meantime, I’ll keep trying to love the ones I’m with.