Over the years I have learned a great deal from my adolescent students, even though they thought I was the one teaching them.
The principal work of the early teenage years is learning to manage change, saying goodbye to a former self and gracefully slipping into new skin. Both kids and their parents lament: This is not the way we did it last year, his old friends have moved into new circles, Spanish verbs are confusing. They campaign to continue doing things the way they always have, in familiar terrain. But 14-year-olds need to learn to tough out a few hours of hard work. Those about to enter high school have to figure out how to connect to a new set of friends.
I think about this as I look at my own changing life. I wince when old friends divorce. The local Italian restaurant closes its doors. My sister and her husband sell their home of 40 years in San Francisco and move back east, far away. The friendly old guy next door passes away. The kittens we adopted when our kids were young now need help to get up onto the bed.
Change is often painful, disorienting. It makes us want to howl at the universe. Waking up in the wee hours, I contemplate a foreign landscape. I resist getting accustomed to new ways.
But a Thai restaurant opens up nearby. The new neighbor shares her homemade cookies. I recultivate the art of writing letters to faraway friends.
Learning is struggle. I saw this all the time in my young students. But watching is not the same as living the challenge.
There is an old saying,” The barn burned down: now I can see the moon.”
I recall Pete’s tortured efforts to learn to write. I remember how hard it was for Dirk to learn to throw a ball straight, for Gail to master the geography of Asia. My old students are my new mentors as I forge ahead, appreciating a different view of the sky.
With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.
Marilyn Englander is an educator in the North Bay and founder of REAL School Marin.