When I tell people that I teach Ninth graders, they usually fix me with a serious stare. “God bless you,” they say. “Kids at that age are so difficult.” Sometimes people talk about teenage years the way we talk about skydiving and base jumping: with the safety of childhood on one side and the security of adulthood on the other, the best anyone can do is close their eyes, leap, and do their best to stay right side up in the air. Even though comments like these tend to bother me, I understand their source: adolescence doesn’t come with a map, and being around that kind of energy can, for some, be tiring.
It can also be incredibly joyful, rewarding, and transformative. This fall, on one October day, my Dublin students arrived at the climax of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Anxious to begin the discussion, they took out their books and waited for class to begin. However, a problem arose: we had a guest that day, a student from another school, who had just begun to read Lee’s novel the night before! The students were unironically worried: “We can’t give it away!” they cried. “It’ll ruin the whole thing!”
“What if we have the discussion…but we don’t use any names?” one of them offered. And so, they did. Deftly maneuvering around potential spoilers (“You’re giving it away!” “I just said he was short!”), the students engaged in a very thoughtful, scholarly conversation about the text, assuring that they would not ruin the novel for their visitor. I knew, in that moment, what drew me to the school. The students at Dublin, to me, walk the line of childhood and adulthood like tightrope walkers joyfully striding between skyscrapers; they seem neither to feign adulthood nor cling to childhood, but rather to bask in the playfulness and improvisation of what lies between. My students stubbornly hold to the truth of each moment, even if it means that plans change. When people give me that stare and extend their apologies to my profession, I should start inviting them to class.