I work with teenagers. It’s kinda what I do. I used to think that it wasn’t who I am, but I’m not sure that’s true. I know that they say your job isn’t who you are, but I think if you are really lucky—or no, really blessed—your job IS who you are. After all. You spend about 60% (or in my case more like 80%) of your day at your job. Having it define you, in a good way, can (in fact) be a good thing.
But I’ve struggled with that, because I don’t want it to be my only thing. Being a workaholic isn’t my goal, but being a dedicated member of God’s world is. And when you find your calling and you happen to be able to make it your job, we should rejoice over that—no matter how frustrating it can get.
Which is why I said I work with teenagers, not that I’m a teacher. I am a teacher, but I don’t believe my calling is really limited to teacher. Ask anyone who has ever taught for even five minutes and you’ll understand what I mean. There are memes and blogs and caricatures, and all sorts of other things that list the “job” of a teacher and most of them are true. I teach, yes, but that’s really not my primary “job”. If it was, I wouldn’t work with teenagers.
Whenever someone asks me what I do, I always get one of these reactions (or variations):
- Wow, that’s awesome. I could never do that, but I’m glad someone does!
- Teenagers huh? I think the only thing more challenging would be middle schoolers.
- How do you do that?
I didn’t know how to answer that for a long time, because yeah, someone needs to work with them and sometimes people are working with teens who really shouldn’t be. And yes, middle school is challenging, but challenging in its own way. Just like if you put me in an elementary school I’d probably be kicked out because half the class would be crying in absolute frustration (I’m not meant to work with that age!). And how do I do that? Well, I just do. There isn’t some kind of magic formula. If there was, then we wouldn’t have a teacher shortage because we could train almost anyone to do it.
Finally I came up with an answer I liked. And It seems to really resound with most of the people I talk to—and will bring me back to my original point.
I treat teenagers like people. Because that’s what they are, they’re just people. Yeah, they have a few more hormones bouncing around them, but seriously I know 30 year olds who have less control over their hormones than my students. What I think people fail to realize is that teenagers are people who have needs, wants, hopes, dreams, desires, loves, just like we do and when you tap into that and realize you are not just a teacher—you work with teenagers. Well, that’s when magic happens.
I may not always be a teacher. I never know what the future holds, but I do know that I will always work with teenagers because they are a part of me. I was never good at being a teenager, but who is really? It’s our job as the body of Christ to perform our function, and once we find that function we build it up—creating muscle, not fat.
“So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” Because, really, that’s the only way any of us win.