10 September 2008

Tell them they don't suck: Or how to build self-esteem among teenagers

I must assume that teachers respond similarly to the question that inevitably occurs early in the school year: How's it going? or How are your kids? or How are are your classes? Mostly, we respond with guarded optimism: Oh, they seem good! or Oh, they seem fine. or Well, they're freshmen (or 6th graders or kindergartners) after all. We understand that those first few days of school are gloriously different from the rest of the year.

If we are lucky (and have been around the block 21 or so times), our new students know us by reputation from cousins, siblings, aunts or uncles who had us back in the day and who (we hope) didn't hate us. Perhaps even thought we were entertaining. Or useful. Or not lame. If we are lucky and experienced, we enjoy the first few days of classes as a time to move quickly from point to point with classes we don't yet know. Since we don't know our students, we don't necessarily have to worry about them. We don't have any details, complications or background information to confuse our focus on the classwork at hand. No bad test scores, no unreadable essays, no phone calls home from the previous day to contend with. No history. Yet.

To be honest, it is a simple but boring time.

Finally, on about day four, they begin to emerge as known quantities with names and personalities. Monique is the one who looks sullen but breaks into a beautiful smile when I concur that being on drill team should be considered an athletic activity. Grace is the one whose mother I worked with for a few years and tells me that she knows I'm always patient. Dolores asks good questions about applying for college. Josh is very serious. Kevin asks me if I'm always calm and quiet. Darren makes me laugh when he tells me a story about a friend of his and former student of mine from last year. They become more comfortable, especially when I talk about applying to college. Instead of merely nodding at me when I speak to them of my hopes, my plans that they all attend college, they begin to honestly assess their chances and express their fears.

Me (moving around the room as they work on creating their résumés for college applications): You had a question?

Kevin: Not really. I just wanted to say that I suck.

Me: Um, why is that?

Kevin: Because I don't have anything to put on my résumé. I didn't play sports. I didn't belong to any clubs. Nothing.

Me: Well, um, did you have a job?

Kevin: Yeah, but that doesn't count.

Me: Sure it does.

Kevin: Oh. Okay. I'll put that down.

Judith: Miss? I suck too.

Me: Judith? What? Why do you suck?

Judith: Because I don't have anything either.

Me: Judith, you don't suck. Neither does Kevin. In fact, no one in this room sucks. We are incredibly un-sucky. And you all have something to include on a résumé.

Judith, Kevin, George, et. al: But . . . what about . . . yeah, but . . .

Me: None of you suck, okay?

Judith, Kevin, George, et. al (slowly, reluctantly, with a heavy sigh): Oh . . . o . . . kay . . .

Me: It will be fine. Now find a club to join.

Later

Student: Miss? I listed this as community service, but what if they ask me why I did it?

Me: Um, I don't think they'll ask you that. But why are you wondering?

Student: Because I don't think I can give them a good answer. Maybe I shouldn't include it.

Me: Colleges like to see community service on a résumé. What's the problem?

Student: Well, I had to do the community service. . .

Me (patiently): And . . . ?

Student: . . . because I was arrested.

Me: Oh.

Student: See?

Me: Well, you don't have to tell them why you performed the community service. I don't think they'll ask.

Student: Really? Oh, good!

Other student: Miss? Should I put a job on my résumé if I got fired?

Me: Um, have you thought about joining a club here at school?

1 comment:

aron said...

Miss,
I suck too.
Could you please tell me too why I don't?
I don't need this information for a resume. Just everyday living.