Monday, June 24, 2013

Our Grads Are Better Than We Thought

On June 19, our Grade 8 students had their graduation ceremony. It was a wonderful ceremony and a great celebration afterwards. A couple of days later, we held our Sports Day and our graduates returned to participate. My job was to supervise and run the "free time" area. As each grade group rotated to their allocated event, rumors and stories began to swirl among the staff:

"Did you hear what the Grade 8s did?"

Word on the field was that the Grade 8s chose to flaunt the rules and regulations around Sports Day. Some said it was a protest because their last year of elementary school did not have clubs and teams. Others reported that they were probably upset because a request they made to the administration had been denied. I was shocked. I was dismayed. I was disappointed.

And I was wrong.

In the afternoon, the Grade 8 girls spoke to me. I can't report everything they told me, because I vowed a degree of confidentiality. However, I can share that they were horrified to learn that their intentions were totally misinterpreted. As they told me, they were not interested in competing against each other - they wanted to collaborate, to cross the finish line all together as a show of solidarity with each other. The young women I spoke to that afternoon were very sorry about the ruckus their actions unintentionally caused.

But we teachers should be the ones to apologize.

We were too quick to make assumptions about their actions, to attribute negative connotations to their decisions, that we missed the lesson that they were teaching us - it's not about earning the ribbon or the first place, but it's about the bonds of friendship and working together for a common goal. I should have listened much more attentively to our valedictorian's speech, when she said:

I remember in health class one day, Mr. R gave us four balloons.On each balloon, we were to write things that were important to us, like family, food, water ... Then he told us to try balancing all the balloons at once in the air. It was really hard! Some of us secretly helped each other when they saw one falling. That activity can teach us a lot about our future. We may need a lot of things like friends, money, love, but balancing it all isn't as easy as it seems. Never refuse a little help, because if you don't accept it when you need it, you'll be all over the place, and you'll have so much stress!

I needed their help to understand how empowering and wonderful their actions truly were. In a Roman Catholic Mass, there is a part where we admit our failings: "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" (my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault). In this blog post, I want to apologize, to offer a "mea culpa" for misunderstanding our graduates. Our Grade 8s showed a level of maturity that put me to shame. Our graduates are better than we thought.

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