This woman had finished teacher’s college a couple of years ago and is now trying to find her way into the system. It’s a tough field with tons of competition—and I will add, also sometimes frustratingly occupied by teachers who are sick of the grind and the grist and who offer their students little by way of encouragement or inspiration. She bides her time—as so many young teachers do—by substitute teaching. We found ourselves in quick catch-up mode and she was telling me that when she goes into the schools, every single high school student tells her that they want only one thing from their teachers: to be seen for who they are. That’s it. See me. Hear me. These kids, she said, were almost unanimously engaged, interesting, thoughtful (as in full of thought), but many of them felt they were being marginalized by sweeping stereotypes: the bad one, the rude one, the druggie, the apathetic, the asshole. She could only shake her head and wonder why they weren’t being heard, on the one hand, and why they were living by the label, on the other.
One of the “worst” of the bunch, a student who was routinely “bad”, began an extended confessional with her. She discovered a highly intelligent, passionate but frustrated kid. When she asked him why he didn’t work up to his potential, he asked why he should bother: no one would recognize it anyway. My heart broke for him and others like him. Kids who might never find their voices because they feel like they’re caught in an echo chamber—a vast, hollow and futile void.
But then I also remembered my parental philosophy, one I constantly remind my children of (and one I constantly have to remind myself of): we are hunters and gatherers of information. We search out and find what we need amongst the endless details of human life and natural phenomenon. The more stuff we catalogue and the more stuff we pay attention to, the more information we have in our arsenal to use for our own lives and for the lives of those around us. In the end, it can’t matter that there is an apathetic ear or ears in our periphery. As hunters, the prey doesn’t, after all, come to us; we have to seek it out. As gatherers, we have to keep doing a kind of archeology our whole lives long, this sifting through of mountains of detritus to find our own nuggets of gold.
I hope that we can all remember that we need to keep searching. And we don’t do it to impress teachers or loved ones or parents or some faceless “audience”, we do it to enrich our own lives, to find our own waypoints, messages, secrets, answers. Which might, incidentally, also turn out to impress our teachers, our loved ones, our parents, and/or some faceless “audience” out there, but that’s not the important thing. The most important thing is that we see our world. Not that we are seen in it.
PS Let's keep a thought for Deb and her mom on the big move home today!!
Deb: Barb, I love this and I just had a conversation yesterday with someone about the concept of “seeing our own world”, but we did not phrase it just like that. You have now given me a phrase to encompass those feelings: “see our world”. This is my favourite part of the living experience. The hunting, gathering, and learning. Knowing that we will learn until the day we die is, on its own, a reason to want to be here. I remember a time of fear in my life when I actually tried to shrink my world. It was during a time when I was afraid to fly. Now I am at a point where I want to expand my world, explode with sights and sounds and knowledge. Because to “see my world” is to “love my world”.