Being a parent isn’t easy. And, being a teacher of middle schoolers isn’t any easier, either. Because when they move on, I do not. I am stuck in seventh grade. There is something about growing up and growing old. I want to share my mistakes, in an anonymous sort of way, with others so they won’t make the same ones I made. I want them to avoid the scrapes, the pain, and I want them to listen, to mind, to take my advice at face value. I want them to grow and learn, but try as I might; kids just have a difficult time learning through other’s mistakes, because it won’t happen to them.
But, then a really bad, good example happens and it provides an opportunity to reach out and make a difference. I quoted Groucho Marx, this week. He said,
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.”
It also, gives me time to pause and look back, way back to a time, when I could have been that story.
Last week was Red Ribbon Week in my school. Red Ribbon Week is in October and it is time to focus on making positive choices and avoiding drugs and alcohol. We set aside time during our advisory time to talk about choices and we practiced making choices in class. We began small, move to this side of the room if you like pizza, move to the other side of the room if you like burgers. Yeah, easy choices. However, I saw kids look across the room at their friends, make eye contact, and say without words, ‘hey I am with you, I don’t like burgers, but I like you. I am with you.’ We amped up the choices and added riskier behavior, including smoking, drinking, and drugs – and they all made the right choice, the one I hope they are able to make, when the time comes.
I asked the group and one of the kids replied. “These are no brainers. I’d never do this.” she said. And I replied, “What if you didn’t have 28 other kids with you?” She paused and responded, “I’d still make the right choice.” I nodded and left it at that, but I could see her thinking – a seventh grade teacher can sense it when they are thinking, pondering, mulling over an idea, taking it for a ride. I could see others in the room thinking it over and wondering if they could be strong in the face of peer pressure. Some will, some won’t. Some will have to learn the way Pete Seger learned, the hard way.
I learned the hard way, too.
And then, in the middle of the day Tuesday, I checked the local newspaper on-line and I saw the headline that changed my day, changed the day of hundreds of kids around the area. It changed four families and a community, forever. It was about a boy, a high schooler who was tragically killed in a car crash. Sadly, the entire episode was completely avoidable.
The next day in my advisory class, I asked the following questions. “Do you wear your seat belt, even in the back seat?” “Would you sneak out of your house to be with three other kids?” “Would you take your dad’s car for a ride at one in the morning?” They knew the story and it was a no-brainer. But, then I asked, “Do you think those four boys thought it could happen to them?” And, I could feel the attitude shift and the brain kick in and they began to realize, it could happen to them. They were just one or two bad decisions away from being in a place where they could be a bad example. I guess we all are or could be.
So, I sit Saturday morning, writing, thinking, reflecting back over the week. I hope my lesson and the tragedy is ‘the fine print’ for a few kids. I hope they can learn from my mistakes and the mistakes and others, because, I don’t want them to learn the hard way. No one should have to learn that way. Despite the sober beginning to the day, today is gonna be a great day. The sun is shining, and it is a beautiful fall day. I’ll be dancin’ with a rake, climbin’ a ladder, and following a mower. But, I’ll be thinking of making better choices and hoping my kids can learn from stories instead of experience. Because, it could happen to them. Making the Days Count, one story at a time.
Do you tell stories to your kids, do they listen? Or do they give you the ‘dog look’? Kids, flip it – do you listen to our stories?
NOTE: I didn’t link the article and I won’t. I don’t know the kids or even have former students or kids who attend the school, but I could. I am praying for the families involved and the school. I am praying that my own kids will make the right choice and say no when they need to.