Kids These Days

Five classes of thirty.

One hundred and fifty kids a day for 180 days. (In this job at least – my second teaching job fluctuates.) I don’t teach Honors or AP. I teach what is usually referred to as the “regular classes”. Say that down your nose with a sniff like you just smelled something nasty. That’s what I’m used to.

I like my kids. All of them. Of course, we all have bad days but in another 24 hours you walk into that room and you forgive them. Every day. You show superhuman patience. You model kindness. You give them pats on the shoulder and chocolate when they’re blue. Provide them with pencils, tissues, hand sanitizer, cough drops, lotion, pens, highlighters, stickers, lollipops, and unconditional love. All out of your own pocket.

It’s upsetting to continually hear about “kids today” because unless you spend 8 hours a day with them, you really can’t say you know what’s best or worst about kids today. My kids today? They’re brown and beige and white. They are depressed and struggling. They are the sole provider for their families. They are the only person in their household who speak English. They include a wonderful mother and brand new big brother. An Eagle Scout. A refugee from Nepal. They work multiple jobs. They volunteer to help out without you even asking. They donate their own money to a fundraising cause and go without treating themselves that day. Their faces light up when you’re the first person to get their name right. They love to laugh and want you to feel better when you’re not 100% so they tell you dumb jokes to get you to giggle. They lie like a rug to keep from getting in trouble at home. They build guitars. They dream about college.

I want to teach them everything but I can only do so much in 43 minutes with the materials I have. It feels like 30 pairs of arms grasping at me at once, pulling me apart like a starfish or a long-legged spider. When I get a new student in a class I try to do as much as I can to be helpful. Is this person new to the school? Have a locker? Use specific pronouns? Need accommodations? Sometimes, there’s not enough of me to go around.

Today, a group of students proved to me how great “kids these days” can be. My new student Ritchie didn’t speak English. Poquito – a bit – I was able to understand. The crew coming in didn’t hesitate. One by one they stuck out their hands and introduced themselves to the new boy. His smile and return handshake were filled with warmth and enthusiasm. More than a few are bilingual and switched from English into Spanish so smoothly it was seamless – united. They asked if they could move their seats around to accommodate him. Of course, they could. One boy chose to sit on the floor so he could still be a part of the welcoming team and give Ritchie a place to sit. They guided him through the bell ringer and the poem of the day, and away we went to hang out with Walt Whitman and his “Song of Myself.” Together as a team, the class flew.

I was so proud of these beautiful young humans who went out of their way to make a new kid feel welcome and comfortable. These are kids who will leave my class and be judged by society as something they are not; lazy, irresponsible, different, unworthy. Are they perfect? Hell no. But is there potential in these “kids today?” If you ask me – If these are the hands my future is left in, then we’re going to be fine.

And yes, I would take a bullet for them.

Karen Padden

Karen, Queen of the Paddens and first of her name. Teacher, Baker, Petter of Cats, Multiple Sneezer and Crocheter of Wubbies. Believes in kindness, always.

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