Some people do their best thinking in the shower. I do my best thinking on long walks. Last summer, as I trailed past a construction site where 8 men worked atop a roof in the unforgiving 98-degree Florida sun, I thought to myself–I wonder how they got there? Was a father in the roofing business and naturally, the son took over? Did they get hired to work on this roof on this day, part of a day labor group? Did they always intend to work outside, enjoying the fresh air that jobs in cubicles and offices don’t provide? And my brain drifted from roofers, to other careers and occupations. How do we end up where we are? Is it always a conscious and deliberate plan, or did a series of small choices–good or bad–lead us to where we are today? And does it vary from person to person?
As a high school teacher, I thought about how events and choices in high school seem to be of utmost importance. I’ve had students cry on my shoulder because their ACT scores didn’t measure up to what they thought they needed to live the life they’d dreamed. I’ve had students reveal harsh truths about drunk parents and economic depravity that stand in their way of pursuing their own dreams. And still others I have witnessed have everything come easily, with no barriers to their ability to pursue every opportunity.
I thought back to my own high school experience, to the internal tortures in my mind that made me struggle in managing the external pressures. I found my own way to cope. Perfectionism. On the outside, it looked like everything came my way easily. On the inside, I was torn up with thoughts of “you’re not good enough.”
I turned 40 in January. Something about the decade birthdays makes me more reflective than usual (and that’s saying a lot, because I am already a highly reflective person). My 40 years of life and experience have taught me that I am not alone. But I most certainly did not know this when I was in high school. In high school, I was alone. Alone in my thoughts. Alone in my torture.
#advicetomyHSself is for my students, but it’s also for me. And, as it turns out, it’s for all of us. In July 2016, I asked about 15 friends and family members to film a 2-minute video of themselves giving one or two pieces of advice to themselves in high school, knowing what they know now. I received many replies from those 15 who though the project was a great idea. It resonated with them. I received far fewer replies from those 15 who said they would participate. In fact, I got only one. I dropped the project for a while, getting caught up in the bustle of the new school year in August. But in February, the idea surfaced again. I wrote this on my Facebook page:
February is tax season for teachers. We have worked steadily with our students since August and it’s crunch time. Testing season looms large and stress runs high. We are drilling down and spiraling back and providing rigor. And we are all–students and teachers alike–exhausted.
Then Valentine’s Day arrives, and in high school it’s either a welcomed holiday marking young infatuation with teddy bears and chocolate, or a day to be reminded, yet again, that high school can be downright cruel.
Enter LOVE. Just love. And stickers. And a lesson plan that leaves room for creativity. And the understanding that writing is therapeutic. It’s how we know we are not alone. I’m tired, but fulfilled this afternoon. They smiled and accepted my silly stickers and read Mark Twain and wrote advice columns and they laughed. Love is for everyone. Teddy bears and chocolate not required.
And so, with love, I decided to bring life to my project once again. This time, I went back to some of the people I knew in high school. I asked them to help. And the response was better. I found Canva. I made a YouTube channel. I found joy in creating.
While I had more people say yes to this project, I also had people say no. Forty-year-old people like myself said things like, I don’t think I’d have anything worthwhile to say, or I hate how I look on video, and I know that sounds ridiculous, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Others, who knew I’d be posting the videos to social media, said, I have some people as my “friends” who would never let me live this down, so I’d prefer you not share it. It surprised me, in a way, that we really aren’t so much different than our high school selves. Those fears and insecurities still run through us. The traumatic times we experienced in high school don’t go away and can be painful to unearth some 20-years later. But still, I want my high school students to know it. I want them to know that they are not alone. Even though most of us have to live and experience things for ourselves before we understand their truth, it is always comforting to know we are not alone and we will be okay.
This is for you.
Episodes 1-3 of #advicetomyHSself are available on my YouTube channel. Subscribe.
Follow me on Twitter @Kelley_Kaminsky to see a new episode launch on Tuesdays each week.
To participate in the project, message me on Twitter or reply here.