If we are honest with ourselves, teenagers are equal parts frustrating and equal parts energizing. We have moments in our classes, with our teams, or in our advisories where our students make us laugh, inspire us to dig deeper, think more critically, and do our best work. And then we have moments where we want to pull our hair out and question our career choice.
In those moments of frustration, we have to remind ourselves that this is our work as a school. It is to take the unformed prefrontal cortexes of adolescents and help them become just a bit more formed, while providing guidance, love, encouragement, and accountability along the way. Our work is pretty simple, actually, in that every generation of teenagers is remarkably similar. Of course there are different stressors in their lives, different distractions from homework, and different threats to mental health, but deep down, adolescents today are very similar to adolescents forty years ago.
On November 12, Proctor hosted the 20th Anniversary Skate for Ted alongside the family of Proctor alum Teddy Maloney ‘88 (who lost his life in 9/11). Family and friends from New York and Connecticut joined Proctor alumni and faculty for a skate commemorating the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Teddy Maloney ‘88 Hockey Rink. During the opening remarks of the event, Dean of Faculty Karl Methven took the microphone and shared memories of his former advisee and goalie, Teddy.
Karl’s wisdom after 42 years teaching, coaching, and leading Proctor always provides a perspective that many of us younger faculty need to hear. “On a bookshelf in my office is a collection of plaques, pictures, thank you notes. It is actually a culture wall. It is an expression of beliefs and values and people and moments. On one of those shelves is a picture, cracked and colorful, of Teddy on his graduation day standing next to his father. It’s a great memory, but for me it is not just a memory. It is a reminder of who these kids are when they arrive and what they need. When they arrive at Proctor, they are not yet, they are still becoming, they are adolescents.”
“We shouldn’t be surprised if we see some rascally, inconsistent, erratic, ‘What the hell were you thinking’ behavior. That’s just who they are at that moment, like we were. And what they need from us is to believe in who they could become, who they are going to be. They need to believe we have confidence in who they will become. They need to trust that we are not going to quit on them and that we are always going to be there. So that picture of Teddy is not just a reminder, it’s a lesson for me, and I’m very grateful for it. Let’s have a good skate.”
Sometimes we can overthink our work as educators. We can spend all of our time seeking to create the perfect lesson plan, the most creative assessment, or the flawless game plan for our team. This preparation and planning work is important, but it must be done in conjunction with a plan for connection. Karl is right, what our kids really need from us is to know that we believe in who they could become.
This is our purpose and our direction, especially during these winter months when sickness, cold weather, and dark days can overshadow all the good that is happening in our classes, teams, dorms, and advisories. Each day, we just do our best to show up for our kids, letting them know that we will never, ever quit on them.