Your Perception Of Teens Is Way Off – They’re Not Just Texting, They’re Changing the World

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On a Tuesday morning, I am asked to relay to my senior Creative Writing students that a recent graduate from the class of 2013 has succumbed to injuries sustained from being struck in a hit and run the previous day. Their reactions are not histrionic. One to two students ask to speak with counselors who are on hand. I move the rest of the class forward with the day’s scheduled lesson. They are knee-deep in revising children’s stories, and I instruct them to start their writing workshop discussions so that I can begin grading their This I Believe essays, an assignment inspired by the NPR series.

On my way home, I stop at the store for some last minute dinner ingredients. While waiting in line, a couple behind me quietly mock the teenager who is bagging the line’s groceries. First, the woman makes fun of the teen’s hair. Next, I overhear the man say, “I can’t believe the kid can look up from her phone long enough to even hold a job.”  His companion snorts and says she’s going to text that to her sister. For the rest of my life, I will regret not saying something to this couple. For the rest of my life, I will imagine what I should have told them.

At home, after my own teenagers have completed their evening routines, I grade and listen to the radio. There is a story about the teens in Scotland who have voted in the election pertaining to Scottish independence or continued membership in the UK. One group interviewed excitedly relays how they researched their choices in the election. Amid their giggles, they cite facts and sound delightfully proud to have been included in such a historic event. Later on, I read about a group of students in Newark, NJ who are successfully protesting on a large scale for changes in their school district. I am weaving through the This I Believe essays and my husband notices that I am smiling, which doesn’t always happen when I grade. It is because of a collection of titles by my 17-18 year old students. Titles such as: I Believe in Heroes, I Believe in Hard Work, I Believe in the Power of Creativity, I Believe in Taking Risks, I Believe in the Power of Unconditional Love. 

I have only gleaned the first four of five essays and already I’m excited about how much these students are willing to reveal about themselves. Lest you think I’m a Pollyanna about my job, there are grammatical errors for days, and one essay forgets paragraphs. Still, my students have taken the assignment to heart and are risking vulnerability. They are asserting their personalities. It is thrilling. If I were a radio show host, I would read almost every one of these essays to the masses.

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