Thursday, April 3, 2008

I heard the news today--oh, boy


Anyone who knows teenagers knows how fearless--and how vulnerable--they are. Since 1994, when we changed careers and found ourselves face-to-face with 125 cherubs a day, We've seen both sides. The kids are impulsive, reckless, daring, confident, brazen--until they lose one of their own. We could see the opposite of teen bravado--the fragile side--yesterday in the classrooms and halls of Our Humble High School. One of our seniors killed himself--a happy, funny, smart kid--and no one seems to know why.

How does one "break the news" of a loved-one's death? We have to say we didn't learn the news of Nick in a terribly graceful way. You see, usually the principal will e-mail the teachers with the sad news before school starts, so they can prepare themselves for the reactions to come (which could range from quiet introspection to hysterical shrieks). Principal Man--whom we think seriously is just using our high school as the stop on the road to being King of the District--didn't do that. School starts at 7:30--Principal Man came on the PA at 7:31 with the sad news. He didn't even notify Nick's 1st-period teacher. So the man was literally standing in front of a classroom full of seniors when they all heard the news at once. No couching, no filter. Life is hard, and it's always a good idea to "grow up," but do we have to mature so suddenly, so abruptly?

Principal Man later apologized to the staff. He acknowledged that he should have dropped the bomb in a more sensitive fashion--hey, buddy, a "head's up" e-mail would have been nice! But he also told us that he had been under a lot of "stress" because of recent events, and he hoped we "understood." We hope Principal Man apologized for his shallow callousness to Nick's 1st-period teacher, not to mention his guitar ensemble and English teachers, who had to call last-minute subs when the news of Nick's death was broadcast yesterday morning.

We hear so much about the Holden Caulfield side of teenaged life--from magazines, from TV, from film. Well, at least Holden had irony on his side. The Trouble with Teens is that most of them don't know how to couch anything; how to filter anything. They don't know nuance. They're not old enough yet. But that doesn't mean we can't sift through the debris of "real-life" with them. We know that our students don't have to grow up near as fast as many in some of the big city high schools, but the way Principal Man approached the death of a treasured friend probably was not what we in the biz call a "teachable moment." Unless we were trying to teach them how to be harsh.

Poynter Online carries a daily column called Al's Morning Meeting. See a recent post about teens and suicide--http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=2&aid=139952 -- it's pretty scary. We didn't intend for this post to be about suicide. We wanted to tell you about the physics teacher who died from cancer in 1999, and how he didn't hide the chemo and its hideous side-effects from his students. They respected him for it, and were better able to mourn him when he died. We wanted to tell you about 9-11 and how we sat in a classroom full of students, many of whom had parents who worked at the Pentagon. The phone lines were jammed and we huddled with 28 terrified 16-year-olds, seven cellphones and one land-line, watching the TV, calling their parents, and wondering. Everyone came through that day, but we gathered together underneath that television for 90 minutes, until we found out that all of the Pentagon parents had made it through. The high school handled that horror better than at our daughter's elementary school, where the teachers shielded the students, and the cherubs only learned the details of the day in dribs and drabs, mostly from students who returned to school from orthodontist appointments.

As they say in politics, we're all for "transparency." Yes, we need to teach our children to deal with the real deal--but they also have to know that not all of life is awful. And we don't need to hit them over the heads with all the bad stuff at once. Yes, they need to grow up--but can't they hang out with Peter Pan for a little while longer?

1 comment:

Kristin said...

You're amazing. Thank you for writing this post today. I'm sorry for the way Principal Man dropped the bomb and the ball all at the same time. I hope he'll learn from this.

Thanks for sharing your experiences in this post. I'm sorry that you are leading students who are in shock all the while as you are still in dismay.

I hope that The Oracle will be able to express the same views you just shed light on. As students, there is a fine line of how much we should be exposed to at one moment in time. Thank you for seeing the importance allowing students to partake in parts of both Neverland and the "Real World" all at the same time.

:)

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