I am half-way through a long-term substitute teaching job: four sections of freshman English at the school from which I "retired" two years ago. Eight hours a day with brand-new high schoolers: emotional, excitable, nervous, hormonal wrecks. Also, it is Homecoming Week. So there are costumes.
70 minutes at a time with freshmen feels like being trapped among a herd of knife-bearing three-year-olds. A vocabulary lesson can erupt into chaos if I relax for even a moment. The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry, as Steinbeck reminds us in that perennial freshman-English favorite. I had my plans to breeze through the trimester; my students thwarted them. Inventing creative, surprising, specific ways to torture us is a teenager's job description. It is impossible to prepare; there is no rule book; spending time with teenagers is disorienting, frustrating, humbling, and exhausting.
After being completely flattened by the humanity of it all, I have sort of found my groove. Even the discovery of penis graffiti and a desk full of sunflower seeds doesn't faze me. It has been excellent research for Beyond Mama Bear. I am reminded (once again): we must KNOW, PROTECT and LOVE teenagers if we are to find any common ground with them. My lesson plans--like any plans we have for our children--do not exist in a vacuum; I have to use them with actual, live human beings, and that gets pretty messy. I suited-up for the classroom like I suited-up for my own parenting, quite confident the kids would play along and respect the rules of the game. As we know (and I marvel at my need to keep being reminded), our children seldom play by the rules. I have had to formulate a new game plan.
On the bright side, living with teenagers keeps us in the moment. They are a constant invitation to remain flexible, keep learning, and see the world through new eyes. Meeting them where they are requires vigilance and super-human tenacity, but it's worth it. When you break through a sullen stare and connect with a teenager, when you get a glimpse of the funny, confident, fascinating grown-up lurking behind the angst, almost but not-quite ready to see the light of day, you can see it's worth it. Know, protect, honor. Easier said than done when we're faced with real-live hooligans, but worth it every single time.