Things they say…

Sometimes my students say the most interesting things to me…

Yesterday afternoon a few them received a consequence so they were outside my office writing an essay.

Afterwards one of them calmed herself down and was sitting in my office chatting. At one point she was complaining about how she doesn’t have a boyfriend (middle school problems) and stated, “I don’t understand why, after all I’m the whole package…” We both laughed. I laughed harder.

I’m reading over their essays now. One wrote about her goals for the second semester. After a paragraph or so about being more punctual and improving her grades she wrote, “Sorry, I confused, the best goal I have currently is to go watch Star Wars.” Aim high, my dear, aim high.

But I also loved what two of them wrote:

“It is crazy how I always know what is good and what is bad, and I still choose the wrong thing to do. Well, sometimes.”

Not bad in the self-knowledge department for a 14 year old girl.

Another wrote, “My goal isn’t literally making friends, it is just that I want to learn how to look at people without their flaws and only with their qualities, and learn how to get along with everyone.”

What I love about working with teenagers is their capacity to dream, their self-knowledge, and their drive to improve themselves. All the stereotypes about middle schoolers have some basis in reality, but there is also so much more behind their eye-rolling, laziness, and attitudes.

These girls goals for themselves are lofty. What are your five goals for the coming semester?

Unplugged

When we were little we weren’t allowed to answer the phone when my mom wasn’t home. Once my parents actually got a cell phone, you weren’t allowed to call them for anything except a real emergency.

One of my constant battles with myself is to disconnect, to pay more attention to the person in front of me than the person on my device, and to let myself be still in silence – alone with myself.

My students do not use their electronic devices during their year in the program. They have them once a week to communicate with friends and family. At first it is hard for them, but they soon learn to appreciate it. Over Thanksgiving break, they visited one of our sister schools. When I asked them how it was today at breakfast, I was surprised to hear their response that they prefer our school so much more. “Miss, they have their cell phones too much. They have them twice during the week and during the outings. They had them all the time while we were out in New York City!” Insert jaw drop. Might I add, my students are 12-14 years old. Pinch me now, weren’t these the same girls asking me a week ago if they could have their cell phones for the trip? (Not only that if I had my cell phone only twice a week and during outing I’d probably have a panic attack!)

At the end of each term, I’m shocked again and again to hear my students say that one of the things they are most grateful for is not having their electronic devices all the time.

They learn to live – to put down the camera and see the view, to talk to each other and not to the device, to resolve conflict in person not over a message, to hand-write birthday cards, and save ticket stubs rather than Instagram collages.

We know it… Our social media feeds are ironically full of videos reminding us to disconnect – like this and this.

But we should also sleep more, eat healthier, be kinder… How many things we “should” do that we don’t until too late. Our lives are full of the struggle to be a better person.

Recently I read two articles for one of my classes that had a big impact on me. The first article, PSY550_W3_SocialMedia,┬áhad to do with the effect of social media on our perception of self. The second article┬áhas to do with the impact on the brain. – We’re talking release of dopamine and addiction!

“Make no mistake: email-, Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction.”

That just got serious – fast.

That is my current motivation to unplug. It’s a work in progress. (But I did go to the restroom at the restaurant the other day without my phone without realizing it.) Baby steps…

My students get to learn that their lives and their relationships are worth so much more than being constantly connected.

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But more than that, unplugging when I’m alone gives me an opportunity to spend time with someone else. It gives me time to be alone with myself – to feel all that is inside, to think, to hear myself, to speak to myself (not in the crazy-in-the-head kind of way.) And it is there, in the silence that I’ve discovered a secret inner strength I never knew I had. I’ve discovered how to motivate myself, how to challenge myself, and how to comfort myself.

And best of all perhaps, God has a thing for silence (or at least for tiny whispering sounds).

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Yesterday Was Five Days Before Thanksgiving

I missed yesterday’s gratitude post. I was too busy living experiences for which I am grateful.

I’m grateful for my job.

The students I work with help me keep perspective on life.

The business and the 24/7 activity provide me both an outlet for my focus and energy as well as a welcome distraction.

It reminds me of the shortness of time and of life. Each year we receive a new group of students and every June we say goodbye, leaving a little piece of our hearts with each student that has passed through our care.

When I am down and out, being with them helps me to pull myself out of myself.

Accompanying them as they face their difficulties gives me so much hope through witnessing their strength and knowing that they are forming the ability to overcome obstacles in the future.

I’m lucky to work in a microcosm of society – seeing all the good, truth, and beauty there is in this world that is a valley of tears.

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