Honestly, I don’t think we give teenagers enough credit.
They really have some cool ideas about the world. They recognize what’s messed up, what’s good, and what needs to be changed. They really do.
I’ve spent the better part of the last 25 years around teenagers every day. Many, many people think I’m crazy. They constantly ask me how I do it, why I do it and end by saying something like, “You’re a saint. I wouldn’t have the patience.”
And they’re right – about the patience part. Teaching 12 and 13-year-olds does require patience. And flexibility, consistency, a sense of humor, and enough humbleness to accept that I don’t know everything. Nothing has brought this home more strongly than the advent of using technology in our classrooms.
I’m a digital immigrant. I grew up with a typewriter and a phone that plugs into the wall. It was a big deal to get a typewriter with a correcting tape for my 18th birthday, and my first cell phone was as big a box as my son’s last pair of Nikes. I never imagined teaching English and relying on a keyboard and a screen to let imaginations soar.
But I’m open-minded, curious, and willing to be vulnerable in my classroom. I want my students to know that I value what they’re thinking and how they communicate.
This year, like most, we started off by reading Lois Lowry’s 1994 dystopian novel, The Giver. It’s always a crowd pleaser – I love the idea that it makes kids think about their communities, their families, and the danger of both sameness and ostracizing the ‘other’.
Before they read a single page, however, I have them create their own version of Utopia. With just a few simple guidelines and some directed work time, 105 8th graders solved problems of our government, created clean environments, manufactured jobs and equality in economics, developed responsibilities, educational systems and diversity in their societies using Google Slideshow.
Their vision of the future, creativity of their communities and the honesty in their presentations made me cry.
These innocent teenagers are full of ideas. They’re brimming with innovation, passion and problem-solving.
If you’d like to see more of their Utopias, click over to The Educator’s Room, where my post ‘Creating Utopia: How Kids See The World’ is featured this week.
Or better yet, ask the kids in your life how they see Utopia – and make sure you sit back and listen when they stun you with their imaginations.