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things I’d forgotten

I used to be a teacher. I stopped being one for many reasons. I have never regretted the decision. But there are aspects about teaching that I used to love and that I forgot.

When I look back on my time in school, I tend to focus on the bad stuff – the pressure, the time constraints, the pupils that needed more discipline or never learned to respect others, the colleagues that were set in their ways and not open for new approaches or ideas, the parents that hovered over their kids and the parents who ignored their children. Every time one of my teaching friends or a family member that is a teacher (quite a few of those in my family…) talks about school, I’m happy I’m not involved anymore.

So far, so good.

This week, from Tuesday night to Friday noon, I was invited to sit in at a youth seminar, with the end in mind of possibly working as a mentor in future seminars. Two days before I was due to go there, I only wanted to crawl under a blanket and bawl my eyes out. I was in total panic mode. I had no idea why I’d agreed to do this. I was scared of not being able to cope, scared of the kids, scared of going out of my little box. Probably that’s what eighteen months of social inactivity and lack of structure do to one. It was totally irrational, but very, very real.

Because I have a wonderful sister and awesome friends, I finally had the courage to leave my comfort zone (and realize how very small that zone has become!) and drive down to the seminar. When I arrived, I heard from the two mentors that the group was not easy to work with, that they were difficult to motivate, that they behaved like teenagers instead of the young adults that they were. That was what I took into the group – a small dose of second-hand wariness and a big helping of fear from myself.

Tuesday night was alright, but I still felt raw. Wednesday was slightly better, but my impression of the young people was still that they kept me at distance and I didn’t feel the inclination to overcome that distance. Thursday brought an external trainer who did some fabulous work with us on body language, voice, self presentation and so on – and suddenly I started to consciously see individual faces. I’d already learned most of the names, but now I started to see individuality as well. I started to ask questions and to listen. I started to joke. I became relaxed. I stopped behaving like a wary teacher and instead saw them equals. I realized that I had myself fallen into the trap that I most hate and always most wish to avoid: I’d taken them as a homogeneous group, not as individual people. And I hadn’t seen past the us-them divide.

Tonight, the last evening, they organized a party. We played games, danced, sang. Some things worked, some things could have been better organized, some people tried to take everyone into the group dynamic, some put themselves apart… the typical group behaviour. And I enjoyed every single moment of it. It was fantastic talking music with some of the guys and exchanging opinions on songs, on sound, on dancing that were often very different from mine, but just as well thought-out and communicated. I loved dancing silly dances with the girls. I loved listening to these young people’s dreams, ideas, thoughts, opinions and I was touched when they listened to me and were interested in what I told them.

I had forgotten how much energy teenagers (and young adults) have. I had forgotten how straightforward and powerful their ideas about their future and about life often are. I had forgotten how strong they are and also how fragile and that there are so many things they still need to learn. I had forgotten that you need to show them respect and interest, and when you do, how easily they open up and how much they share about themselves.

And I had forgotten how much I love, love, LOVE working with young people. I’m not going back to being a teacher, but I won’t forget again how good it feels to be of use to these interesting, lovely, intriguing young plants that are just unfurling their leaves and starting to explore the world. I want to go back to being a mentor and help them grow.

And I want to leave my comfort zone more often. Good things happen when I do.