If you asked me what the best part of my job is, I would say, “Connecting with my students as people.” It’s something I not only enjoy but also take seriously, especially when it comes to young students.
One of my students (who we’ll call Henry) has recently run into some trouble. Henry is fourteen. He’s not the most focused student but he’s kind and friendly. He’s a lovable goofball with a cherub-like face. Whenever he sees me, he grins and shouts, “Hello, Miss Hannah! How are you?” Unlike his peers, when Henry asks how I am, he means it.
In January, the class discussed New Year’s resolutions. Henry said he wanted to quit smoking. His classmates had known that he smoked but were surprised to hear him say this.
Then, about a month ago, a colleague informed me that Henry had been found with a large quantity of marijuana in his possession. He had been selling it.
Many of the teachers at the school were appalled by his behavior. Almost instantly, Henry became a sort of social pariah. The teachers chastised, shamed, and spurned him. Even some of his peers began to ignore him. He was seen as a rogue.
For the next several weeks, he came into school with deep, dark circles under empty eyes. The usually energetic and sociable Henry was withdrawn. He looked forlorn.
“Hi, Henry!” I said warmly one day. He looked up and gave a half-smile. For a split second, I saw a playful glimmer in his eyes.
“How are you, Miss Hannah?”
“I’m okay, Henry! Thanks for asking!” I replied with a smile. “And you?”
“I’m sorry, Henry,” I said, looking him directly in the eyes. “It’s going to get better. I promise.”
The next week, I accidentally left my water bottle in a classroom. While sitting in the teacher’s lounge, Henry stopped by to return it. I thanked him and walked back into the room which was filled with other teachers.
Looking at my bottle, a teacher said something in Czech and everyone, except me, laughed. I replayed what she said in my head to translate.
She had said, “Careful! That water might be contaminated now.”
I know humor varies from culture to culture. I know those teachers were having some harmless fun. Still, it didn’t sit right with me, personally.
After class, I told my colleague what happened.
She shook her head sadly and said, “Yeah, I don’t really agree with their behavior. They’ve already written him off as a hopeless case. It’s obvious in how they treat him and he feels their disapproval five times as strongly at this age. He’s still a kid.
“Yesterday, I asked Henry where he would go if he could go anywhere in the world and he said, ‘I would go deep into the mountains so no one could find me.’”
Being a teenager is tough. Teenagers make mistakes. They’re under pressure. They’re unsure of themselves. Sometimes, they need a break. Sometimes, they need a smile.
So, if there’s anything I value about my job, it’s that I can be a positive part of my students’ lives. I try to understand my students as individuals, not just as distracted and lethargic teenagers (although, sometimes, that’s exactly what they are). I give them the same respect I ask for. I tell them, with and without English, that they matter because, if there’s any language for them to learn, it’s the language of love.
The featured photo is courtesy of Fox via Pexels.