Hi, friends. Former middle school and high school teacher here, checking in. Can I let you in on a little something I learned as a secondary teacher? Here it is . . . sometimes the kids who really struggle as teens turn out to be the most amazing adults. Yep. Really. I’ve seen it so many times I felt compelled to share.
One student I knew was constantly in trouble and getting me in trouble because I always stuck up for him. (And I don’t regret it.) He played jokes on teachers, gave substitutes a run for their money, left assignments incomplete, I even caught him taking a smoke break once during an after-school tutoring session.
This student is all grown up now. I take him out to eat every year on his birthday. The silliness, laziness, and mischief has (mostly) faded away, and the kind, beautiful soul that was always in there remains. He worked in the emergency room assisting nurses during COVID. He sent me pictures in his scrubs all masked up, and I’ve never been prouder. Anyone nervous in an emergency would be immediately put at ease by his calm and pleasant demeanor. He is making a difference where people need it most.
Another one . . . probably the most beautiful middle schooler you’ll ever see and the sassiest. She would often answer me with a little phrase she made up called, “What the crap?!” It was her go-to when she didn’t understand her math, or I told her no to taking her third bathroom break. She critiqued the messy bun I often wore, telling me, “Ms. Stout, you should really do your hair.” You know what she does now . . . hair. I’d bet money she’s hardly missed a day of work in her whole career. One thing she was always good at was showing up. She rescues dogs, is a caring and present aunt, and is a hard worker. I’m not surprised at all.
Finally, a sensitive boy I bonded with as he cried in the hallway one morning after his Chihuahua died. He witnessed many traumatic things in high school—the kind that change a person for the worse. It goes without saying when grappling with all that he was, academics weren’t high on his priority list. Since then, he was a contestant on American Idol, has married, and works as a para with special education students at an elementary school. He is hands down, one of the kindest, most giving, thoughtful people I know. He spends his weekends taking his special needs students (with his own money) to all kinds of music and theater events because he knows it’s so valuable to them. He is to this day, a friend, close in my heart.
Here’s the deal: traditional school might not be the best fit for everyone. Kids who thrive in high school can also thrive in life, and kids who struggle in high school can also thrive in life. These three students I write about are just a few success stories; there are many more just like this who I quietly peek in on through social media and root for. Kids who are amazing parents, kids who work on cars, join the Navy, create their own cleaning business, make a point to say hello when I see them at their evening bartending job.
I often wonder if these struggles foster a certain empathy. If these students grow from the challenging period in their teen years with a desire to help others as adults. I know a certain 43-year-old who grew up to teach secondary education and write for Her View From Home who was once a curly-haired tenth grader with little direction, poor grades, and some major insecurities . . . she turned out just fine.
If you are a worried parent, I get it. I’ll be there myself soon. What you need to remember, though, are these stories. I worried so much about these students. And you know what? They found their way. Just like I did. Just like I pray your struggling teen will too. Hang in there—there is so much hope.