By AYANNA CLARKE
I chose to give my life in the service of training young people to be independent thinkers and performers, both nationally and internationally. And many years later, I've realised why. My entire career has been about taking a closer look at the "other" kids. You know, the ones who may be loud, brash and unruly. Or the ones who seem not to care, aren't paying any attention and just can't seem to get it together.
At one point I was top student of my school. According to a teacher, I didn't deserve the title because I didn't have a school jacket and my shoes were the wrong colour. As a side note, she did say all this to my face in the staff room, in front of other teachers and students. Never mind the fact that because I couldn't afford these items; the sweater came from someone else's closet and my shoes from a Goodwill box.
To say that it left me scarred was an understatement. From that day on I was left with a burning distrust of certain teachers and never imagined that teaching was part of my purpose. I can't even begin to tell you about the divine providence that led me into this career, but let's just say that I used that same experience to shape who I would be as both an adult and a teacher.
I've learned that every child will not come from privilege. And among these are the some of the brightest, funniest, most positive people you'd ever want to meet.
They face issues just like we do; they want to make a name for themselves, find their passion, fit in with a group, find love and acceptance, except, like me, they're doing this all with the knowledge that they started with a disadvantage.
Now I have had this conversation with innumerable parents and adults who are convinced that kids don't have any pressure. I mean, parents provide food, shelter, clothing, materials… What do children really have to concern themselves about except doing well in school?
In my experience though most of them should be commended for navigating complex social and personal structures without losing their sense of self and worth.
Contrary to popular belief, kids don't have it as easy as we think they do. Here's an example. Years ago, a student of mine came to school with a knife in his bag. He was all tough once I confronted him, but something urged me to go deeper. Finally, he broke down. He confided that he'd been bullied on his way to school continuously and was tired of being taken advantage of. He decided to start carrying a knife in his bag as a means of protection.
Of course, I thought about punishing him and decided not to. Don't get me wrong, I am a firm believer in allowing the punishment to fit the crime. But in this case I wondered if a crime had been committed at all. (Please note the matter was handled and never repeated.)
You see, he didn't have the benefit of years of experience, and in some cases kids don't have a firm, optimistic voice helping them find their way.
Years later, this student is on his way to becoming an officer of the law and I know our exchange and ensuing connection helped him make that decision.
Young people are resilient, strong and capable. Yeah, they do face tough situations from time to time, but sometimes a deeper look will reveal a vulnerable yet amazing person who will benefit from your compassion.
I won't give a score this time, but I know that when we help guide them through these precarious years positively, we all win.
God bless you this week!