Dear Train Hostess,
Thank you for your concern about my students on your train. I appreciate your concern for their safety. I understand your concern about my lack of concern. Allow me, if you will, to explain.
Teens are not creatures that one needs to fear. I realize that most people, upon seeing a large group of teenagers, are assailed by anxiousness, find a knot forming in their stomachs and begin forming plans for flight or fight. You do not have to be “most people”.
Most people—it may even be safe to say “all people” in this case—find what they are looking for. When one looks for reasons to be happy, one finds them; things as simple as a shining sun, a smiling stranger, or a sugar cookie can bring joy when joy is sought. When one looks for reasons to be angry/sad/offended, one finds them as well; glaring sunrays, smug strangers, and fattening treats can send one’s mood spiraling downward if grumpiness is one’s self-determined forecast. We really do find what we are looking for. When most people view teens they look for problems. They look for loud, obnoxious behavior, they look for disrespect and bad attitudes, they look for reasons to be offended…..and they find them. If they were to look for kindness, generosity, guilelessness, and eagerness for approval, they would find those as well.
Allow me, if you will, to help you see…..
The boy you accused of “refusing to stay in his seat” switched seats once. And he switched seats because he was sitting by someone with whom he interacted in a way you would deem inappropriate. He was trying to solve a problem, not create one.
The multitude you claimed was running from car to car was actually only a few children at a time and most of them were seeking a bathroom. Two hours on a train is a long time for some bladders. Admittedly, some probably sought the restroom that did not critically need it. Most had never been on a train before and the novelty of a bathroom speeding along at 79 mph was something they felt compelled to explore. If sought, one could find reasons to view this as endearing.
You said they should have been taught to use their inside voices. Ma’am, those were their inside voices. When 97 people board a train and fill nearly every available seat, if they all talk, even if they use their inside voices, it will be loud. And they were all talking.
They were all talking because they were all excited. They were excited to be on a train—many for the first time, they were excited to be going to a museum—most for the first time, and they were excited to be out of the classroom—think back to your school days and I’m confident you’ll understand that feeling. Their excitement was something to be enjoyed, if you let it be.
The gentleman who was sitting behind you when you spoke to me—the sharply dressed one, you probably noticed him—is a member of the Board of Directors at my school. He is also Vice President of Zion’s Bank, a past president of Ogden’s Rotary Club, and heavily involved with the Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce. He enjoyed the students’ lack of guile and abundance of enthusiasm and was puzzled, even offended, by your animosity. The other parents, those you accused of apathy who were sitting among the students, also found joy in the students’ experience. It is refreshing to be in the midst of raw excitement that is unrestrained by the constraints maturity dictates, if you let it be….
I wish you could have seen the kids at the museum. Frank and Daisy spent over half of their time in the museum helping elementary kids on and off of the playground’s zip line. No one compelled, or even requested, their help. They stepped in, stepped up, and served, just because that is who they are. Inspiring.
I wish you could have seen Juan, kneeling in from of Samantha, attempting to comfort her. She lost her boyfriend’s camera in the museum’s cave and felt awful. The boyfriend was not angry—on the contrary, he was much more concerned about her than he was the camera—but she wasn’t assured by his assurances. When I passed by, Juan kneeling in front of Samantha, adding his reassurance to that of the boyfriend; it would all be okay. Tender.
I wish you could have seen Abigail and Raquel play in the water room. Dressed in rubber boots and covered with rubber aprons, they built towers, tunnels, and conduits, funneling water from hither to yon, unabashedly laughing and pleasuring, enjoying the water in ways that you and I would love to but do not, restrained as we are by the need to be adult and concerned by the lack of sophistication we may reveal. Guileless.
I wish you could have seen Damien invite me to cross the rope ladders with him. “Come on Mrs. Hislop, it’s fun!” he encouraged. I am sure that I am not the only one who finds it endearing that a 13 year old boy would invited his grandmother-aged science teacher to join him in an adventure. Adorable.
Inspiring. Tender. Guileless. Adorable. Teens.
Next time you interact with a group of teens I invite you to look for reasons to love them. And, if you do, you will find them. Guaranteed.
Ogden Preparatory Academy
NOTE: All teens and/or their parents have consented to have their photos published on this blog.