Five years ago, I started work at a large co-educational secondary school on the outskirts of Dunedin. Tomorrow, my first form class at the school will graduate. It is the first time I have spent five consecutive years at a school and the experience has been amazing.
The Originals (as they like to call themselves) aka 9BM Class of 2014, are off into the big wide world. They were, and are, a great group of young people and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching them evolve from a gregarious, gangly group of 13 year-olds to quietly assured young men and women.
Being a teacher is a lot about boundaries but I believe the best teachers are those who connect with their kids. This can be scary as it means opening your heart. It entails being prepared to learn alongside your students and hoping they can relate to you as a fellow human being first and foremost.
My students knew when I had a sick child, they knew when I had to speak at the funeral of a family friend and they also knew when my stepdaughter got married and when I was excited about family coming to visit . This year, I taught a couple of The Originals in a Year 13 English class. Friday afternoons would often end with them checking in on how my eldest son was getting on. They happily proffered advice on driving lessons, after parties, relationships and other teenage preoccupations. We’d laugh at mistakes they had made. I valued their insights.
And now they are off. Some are talented sports people, some thrive on the stage, others write beautifully and some understand more about computers than I can ever hope to (or want to).
They’ve survived schools formals, exams, driving tests, friendship bust ups, cyber bullying, the death of friends through car crashes or suicide. They’ve given testimonies in court cases, addressed politicians and travelled overseas. In short many have done a lot of living already in their 18 years. But they have a lot of living to do as well.
So what I would tell my originals if we were to gather for one last form time? Here’s my top 5:
- You may never know “what you want to be”. And that’s okay. It is more important to know “who you want to be.”
- Remember when people treat you badly, they are also hurting. Being able to forgive people is an asset.
- Never compare your financial situation to other people. We don’t all start at the same place. There will always be people with less or more stuff so aim to be content with what you have.
- Whatever goals you set for yourself, work hard to attain them. That way, regardless of the outcome, you can be proud that you tried your best and can avoid regret.
- Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself. People who don’t treat you well – verbally, emotionally or physically – are not your people.