“It’s Where I Found Out Who I Am”

Brett, a recent graduate and loved former student (all right…adopted son) wrote this to me.  And he said this in a video he posted on Facebook yesterday.

A lot of mythology exists about high schools, high school students, high school teachers, the administrators, everything.  During the 80’s, I completely identified with the Breakfast Club, or at least the TBS seriously edited version of the Breakfast Club that had no cursing, no references to drugs, etc.  And, in some respects, I still understand why I identified so heavily with the Breakfast Club, specifically the character played by Ally Sheedy (up until she put on makeup and became the Cinderella character who was suddenly loved by the popular athlete…now that I think about it and start rationalizing it….huh?).

And, in some respects, sure the Breakfast Club truly discusses some points about high school or the life of the adolescent which really and truly sucks.  Going through puberty just sucks.  Having random chemicals and hormones coursing through my body and making me have random mood swings and emotional reactions…sucks.  Geez, I can not wait for menopause.  And by that I mean I really wish I could just cut out whatever gland that will cause possible emotional misery and throw it away because I hate random mood swings.

Back to the topic.  Sorry…squirrel moment.

Mythology.  High School.

When I was in high school, I wasn’t really picked on.  My first job, I was picked on.  I loved my first job.  I hated my first job.  I was the outcast, the weird one, and the two pretty boys loved to target me.  It’s funny, now that I can finally look back at the situations through the lenses of thirty years of separation, I can see that it really wasn’t as bad as I used to think it was.  I certainly have seen worse bullying, especially due to the media or listening to my students.  Besides, I finally talked with the two boys about their cruelty after one last, pivotal event.  Okay graceless, stop being all whiney.  You’re life doesn’t suck.  High school didn’t suck.  Your experiences with your first job didn’t suck.

I’m not saying that my students don’t experience bullying or some of the other miseries related to high school.  One thing that has definitely changed about high school since my time in those halls is the usage of technology..  In high school (my job), when I was picked on, it ended at the boundaries of the school/job site.  When I left the bus stop and walked home, I walked away from whatever unhappy event that might have occurred.  My students do not have that luxury.  Social media, smart phones have prohibited students from forming that boundary which enables them to walk away from whatever sadness-catalysts which exist.

But high school and the four years in high school can also be very powerful and beautiful.  Now, I’m not saying that this is the time when people experience the best parts of their lives.  For those adults who still live within the shadowy glory of their high school years, I will tell them that they are ignoring glorious years and experiences which exist within every part of their lives.  My high school year books are in my attic, because I don’t feel like re-living those years anymore.  Most of my high school memorabilia is either gone or stored within the confines of my mind.  I lived those years.  They are done.  I am going to live now for the moments which are beautifully happening right now.

So, let’s bring this back to Brett.  Yesterday, Brett came back to school to apply for a position as a Special-Education Aide.  He also returned to give some of his teachers presents.  I received three beautiful scarves; I love scarves.  I love how they can make any plain outfit suddenly brilliant and beautiful.  This is the closest that I come to femininity.

Brett brought me these scarves and once more talked about how appreciative he was which still surprises me because I was just doing my job.  But I’m not going to denigrate what he said; I am going to exult in the beauty of his words and actions because they are what inspire me to work harder.  And Brett kept on saying that he loved high school because “It’s where [he] found out who [he was].”

Identity is such a huge part of the fabric of our existence.  Its patterns, its texture, the way the fabric flows through our fingers or feels against the callouses in our palms…these are all elements of how we feel about ourselves.  I love soft fabric, loved going with my mother to the fabric store because I would have the pleasure of walking through the expensive fabric sections and run the backs of my hands through the folds and just love the slippery feel of satin and silk or the warm, fuzzy smoothness of velvet.

This is how I wish I felt about my identity.  So often, though, I feel as though the person I am is always out of joint with the people around me because my identity just doesn’t fit.  But that was another blog on another day.

Brett, though, has filled into the fabric of his identity and found how to make the odd angles stretch and conform to his sense of self.  And I happened to have been someone who walked a short part of his path with him and apparently helped him nip and tuck a few of those puckered seams so that they fell against the lines of his shadow more comfortably.

This is part of the high school experience that I sometimes forget is one of the most important elements of high school.  This is the part of high school that falls away when we focus on standardized testing and state mandated paper work which just becomes fodder for the recycling bin or the digital trash bin.  Am I saying that education doesn’t matter?  Puhleeze…apparently you really don’t know me.

But the significant side-effect of education is not the numbers on a report card or on the top of a piece of paper.  It’s the shape of the person’s soul when they finish walking those insane halls filled with identity-fabric-hormone-bubbles.  So much of who I am as a teacher was shaped or inspired by events in high school, events that I either want to avoid (most of my teaching philosophy) or experiences I want to give to my students (Mrs. Harding and “circle up”).

Sure, grades are nice.  They do help with possibly moving the student on to the next stage of life.  But, in the end, realizing that I was someone who helped a beautiful young man understand and accept the texture of his identity, well that is a lot more fulfilling than any evaluation I will ever receive.

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