It was just about two years ago that I was offered a position to teach English in Japan. I accepted immediately without a second thought; then, a couple months later I found out that I would be teaching English at high school. That is when the first seeds of doubt were planted.
I remember high school. It wasn’t that I had a horrible time; actually I quite enjoyed my time in high school. I was fortunate enough to travel abroad as part as my high school education and each of those travels were with many of my friends. I can’t complain about that. It was the being a teenager that was the difficult part. I remember how EVERYTHING was such a drama. And this is what caused me to worry at the thought of teaching high school.
The world has become increasingly more complicated since the late 90s, when I was a teenager. Teenagers are bombarded with all sorts of things these days, yet they aren’t any better at coping than I was all those years ago. So, when I walked into the school that first day as a teacher, I was ready for a whole bunch of attitude and basic teenage mentality. However, that is not what I got…at least initially.
What I really received was a second chance at high school; this time without all the drama of competition or hormones, or the stress of trying to get into a good university. I never really feel like I am a teacher, not in the Japanese definition of the word. As much as I strongly believe in clear boundaries, I also feel that it is important that the kids know that I am interested in their lives, even the shady parts. The fact is, what makes being a teenager so difficult is that we often feel like we are the ONLY ones going through whatever we are going through. And what is worse is that as a teenager you don’t know where to turn. There is so much fear of rejection involved with your friends and family.
In Japan, it is no different; the only thing is on top of that there are so many topics that are societal taboos. As I started to notice this, I made it a point to be an ambassador of weird. I have lived a pretty eclectic life so far, and find it important to tell all youth that you can carve your own path in this life; no matter how hard you get hammered.
I said goodbye to my second graduating class a couple weeks ago. My advice to them was to travel and to believe that they could do what they wanted to do, because the truth is they can. With those oh so poetic words, they fly out into the world. I won’t get to see what becomes of them, but that isn’t the point of teaching is it? Some teachers give knowledge, some give wisdom, and some of us teach you its okay to be you.
I am about to welcome the next class of high school students into the mix. Just like all those before them, they will be both energetic and chronically tired. Teenagers never get enough sleep no matter where they are from. I will try my best to meet them where they are at, to first be human, and then educate. And even though I wouldn’t want to be 17 again for all the money in the world, I enjoy all the teenage crazy and hearing their stories. They are a funky breed and keep me young. So, if there are any teenagers in your life, give them a squeeze, they are just trying to find their way in this crazy world we’ve created for them.