Note: The recount of my weekend in this post actually happened, and the people to whom I refer in this post are real – as are the behaviours I reference. None of them know I’m writing this though so I have therefore done my best to maintain their anonymity. Nevertheless, it is inevitable that those of you who know me will also have a fair idea of who some of these young adults are. For this reason I wish to clarify from the beginning that at no stage in this piece do I directly connect an individual with behaviour that could be considered confidential or private. My references to the past are general, not personal or specific. If this all seems a bit sinister, relax. I’m not about to expose confidential information. It’ll all make sense as you read on. Trust me.
The butcher, the baker, the future playmaker
It began Friday night. I settled down to watch the football. The team of my youth (the beloved ‘Blues’) against an old foe (the ‘Bombers’) in a match that I thought we’d be more than competitive in. Suddenly, on screen, I see a familiar face. An ex-student, drafted last year by the old foe, was featured as he was making his big league debut. Without boring you with too many details, my team lost despite having the game well in hand at half time (sigh) and my ex-student had done enough to impress all who watched. A truly bittersweet experience.
Then there was Saturday night and the theatre. I’d managed to pick up three tickets to the Old Collegian’s production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ and took my two boys to watch. The Director, Producer, and Conductor were all class of 2009. Half the cast were class of 2011. A graduate from last year stole the show (at least he did from the point of view of my boys) in the role of the meat eating plant that butchers humanity while singing in a 50s soul style. All the front of house and band members were students, past or present, whom I’d taught as well.
Then there was Sunday’s hair appointment (yes I still need those … just) the next day. In chatting as you do, I learnt what another student, this time the son of my hairdresser’s friend, was up to. Now a second year apprentice electrician, he had also just made his debut last week in the reserves of (and I’m not kidding) the old foe that had beaten my beloved Blues. That probably means he’s earning more than me already and is destined to break my heart next year.
On the way home I bought bread from a class of 2008 alum. So intense was his desire to sell top quality high fibre foodstuffs, he didn’t recognise me. Either that, or he refused to let that get in the way of his professional duty of delivering equitable customer service to all without favouritism.
On the way out I passed the butchers. I checked to see if a student from last year was behind the counter this morning. He was, and unlike the baker, we nodded to each other before going on with our day. He’s studying biomechanics with an eye to moving into medicine next year.
‘Awww,’ I hear you say, ‘isn’t this nice? Sterling is posting one of those chicken noodle soup for the soul stories’. A post about all the students that work hard and do the right things in school, graduate and grow into outstanding members of society. A post where he gives credit to their families, their school and their community in general.
Actually, no. Not really.
Square pegs in round holes
I crossed the paths of over 20 ex-students last weekend. Thinking about these past students made me think about their past as students. For some of them, the school years were a happy time. For others, the school years were tough. Tough for them, tough for staff, tough for the parents.
As I stated in my intro, I’m not ‘outing’ anyone here. I simply want to highlight that amongst the young adults I encountered were students that had their challenges as teens. Some were disengaged, some were defiant, some were complacent, some were insecure and that insecurity manifested in all sorts of negative ways.
For some of them, school was a part of the problem. For some it was their parents. Some were dealing with the stresses of family dysfunction. Some were dealing with the stresses of family expectation. All of them were expected to be at school, on time, in proper uniform, up to date with their work, and courteous to the staff of the school. Some of them couldn’t do that. It almost cost some of them dearly. The simple mention some of their names in the staffroom were to elicit eye rolls and groans.
Not all. Some.
None of that appears to have mattered in the long run. They’ve grown up. They’re making it. Admittedly my experience of their present life was brief and superficial but it was also commendable and praiseworthy. They should be proud of themselves. I’m proud of them. I said as much on Tuesday when I reflected on this with colleagues (some of whom were groaners in years gone by). These young people deserve great credit. Whatever credit anyone else deserves is up for debate though.
In their own time
That was then but the problems I outlined above exist today in the present generation. They exist in perpetuity. There’s always a portion of the school that can be classified as misfit. There’s always a concerned parent/teacher who fears that their misfit child/student should change their ways. There’s always eloquent advice that warns of this and yet no real change is apparent.
So what happens next? Sometimes the stakes get raised. There’s a heightened sense of urgency. A subtle layer of concern or fear or panic unhelpfully creeps into the discussion. Other times it’s the complete opposite and dismissiveness condemns all efforts to support the student as futile and a waste of time. Either way, eyes roll, groans are uttered, and shoulders shrugged.
But are they really destined for ruination? Will they make a reality of the ne’er-do-well fate we fear? Well I honestly don’t know but my weekend was full of historical precedent that suggests maybe not.
Perhaps the greatest thing that anyone can do for the misfits of the world is be prepared to offer advice and support repeatedly without upping the stakes unnecessarily. Continue to have faith that they’ll get there in their own time. They’ll heed the message eventually. I know that sounds like I’m being complacent and saying “Relax people. No worries, they’ll be alright” but I’m not really.
Last weekend I saw lots of ex-students. As students, some of them were troubled. As young adults, all of them were a credit to themselves and any who hold them dear. Their stories aren’t one of complacency. Their stories suggest that doing your best for them and keeping faith is effective.