I’ve been on a little bit of a self-imposed sabbatical from my blog lately. This I owe partly to preparing my students for the Leeward Islands Debating Competition and partly to several assignments of my own since I am in the middle of pursuing a Master of Arts in the English Language. I feel the need, however, to break my sabbatical to bring you this morsel of an experience I had while in Nevis with my students for LIDC.
If you don’t want to read anything about how teaching teenagers can sometimes lighten your outlook on the world, then stop right now.
While in Nevis, I spent 4 days surrounded by teenagers for every.single.waking.moment of my life. Needless to say, this might have resulted in many another teacher swearing off the profession all together. One thing about teaching high school children, though, is that you get to experience adults before the pessimism of adulthood sets in. The idealistic outlook of teenagers is still untainted by the realities of the world. They still have dreams and aspirations that, in adults, become shriveled like a raisin in the sun. Sometimes, we are able to see the person we were in high school, but often the toils and responsibilities of living an adult life reduce this individual to a faint, almost forgotten impression, like the adhesive left behind after tearing off a bandaid.
With the plaster of reality not yet torn away and the purity that is a life stretched before them vast in opportunity, there is a lot we can learn from teenagers. Recently, in Anguilla, I’ve been hearing members of the older community blaming “the young people” for most of the social ills we are experiencing. However, this is not always the case and, to be honest, if people were to stop condemning “the youth” and instead turn a truly liberal listening ear then perhaps we really could work together. I say this, obviously, coming off of a trip with some of the young people who will go on to govern our country (so perhaps not a proper representation).
Anyhow, I said I was going to tell you a story:
It was Sunday; we were going to church in Nevis. While waiting on the bus for the rest of our contingency, two girls slid into the seat behind me, tittering with the effervescence of teenage gossip.
“Teach,” one said, tapping me on the arm I had slung over the back if the seat, “someone lost $100.” She brandished the colorful Eastern Caribbean bill in front of her like a dealer at a card table (for those who are unfamiliar with our currency, EC$100 equates to about US$37). I was momentarily struck by her honesty in reporting the find. Someone else may have simply thanked the higher powers for their good fortune and squirreled away the bill without alerting any authority.
She handed me the money and I tucked it into my purse saying that we could be on the lookout for anyone mentioning that they had lost money the night before. The rest of the group soon poured into the bus and we made our way through the verdant Nevis countryside to the church. There was the usual bustle getting everyone out of the bus and into the chapel. Ushering in the students and finding somewhere to sit that wasn’t entirely conspicuous was no small feat. Once we had settled in, I was able to take in the moment of the peaceful, breezy Sunday in sleepy Nevis.
Partially through the service, the offering plate came around to collect a smattering of coins and bills for the men’s choir. I leaned in to ask the boy to my left if he had any small change for the plate before passing it on.
“All I have is small change,” he said, “there’s a happy bus driver somewhere out there, though, because I lost $100 last night.” He jingled some dollar coins into the plate and sent it to the next pew.
I pulled the $100 bill the girl had given me from my purse and waved it in front of the boy, “It’s your lucky day.”
His eyes lit up and he steepled his fingers to raise them in a silent recognition to God.
“Wow, Teach,” he said in a whisper as the service continued in front of us, “how’d you find this?”
I recounted, in hushed tones, the interaction I’d had on the bus earlier. He thanked me again and we quietly realigned our attention on the proceedings. Toward the end of the service, the collection plate was passed around again, this time for general offering. As it made its way down the row to us, the boy reached into his pocket and pulled out the $100 bill. He fingered its worn edges and straightened the creases.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m giving this to the church. I thought it was lost last night and I sort of had already come to terms with it. There must be a reason that I got it back here in church.”
The brass plate jingled down to us and I dropped my (now seemingly meager) offering into its belly. The boy to my left flipped the $100 into the plate where I watched it nestle itself into the fives and tens, skirting the dollar coins that weighted the bottom.
“Besides,” he said, “I don’t really need it anyway.”
The warmth of witnessing such a selfless and pure action curled in my core. “That’s amazing. You’re amazing,” I told him.
He smiled at me, probably not realizing that he had, in releasing that $100 from his fingers that Sunday morning, borne a torch of solidarity in my commitment to my job and the younger generation. I was supposed to be teaching him, but what can you teach a person of sacrifice or honesty?
When we make generalizations about “young people these days” we need to remember the positives and not let the negatives assauage our thinking. In the space of two hours I learnt more about the good in humanity than I had in a long time. I hope one day my own children can knock the wind out of a teacher with such a selfless action.