When I tell someone that I work at Tilton, I often get a follow-up question asking how I survive working with teenagers every day. And this is exactly why I do what I do. I have chosen this profession (working in a high school) because the world seems to be hopelessly biased against kids between 14 and 19. It seems to me everyone expects something bad from a teenager in a store or simply walking down the street. This makes me angry because I believe this age is the most important in anyone’s life.
It is the teenage years when dreams come alive, when curiosity is allowed to follow its course, and where the nascent moral code that was set up from birth comes to solidification. People at this age have formed an almost fanatical sense of right and wrong, and it is this stage where the “gray area” starts to really have an influence on their life. In high school, this tension between the hard and fast rules and the reality of living come into conflict. Invariably, this leads to decision making, some of which is faulty. Science has thoroughly documented the undeveloped prefrontal cortex of teenagers, which is why people in adolescence rely on the amygdala to make decisions and solve problems. That is always fraught with danger because the amygdala is the part where the emotions, impulses, aggression, and instinctive behavior call home.
I look at teenagers with unconditional positive regard. My colleagues and I hold this as one of our central beliefs and it informs everything we do. We come to expect mistakes from adolescents, but these mistakes invariably turn into high expectations. These expectations are not for a perfect transcript, making varsity teams, or performing flawlessly at a music recital. These expectations are to understand yourself, what you believe in, and how you contribute to the context of the world around you.
We must embrace and navigate a world marked by diversity and change, and you can only do this when you have been part of a community that accepts you for who you are and helps shape who you will become by recognizing the human being you are now.
As a high school leader, I am on a mission to change the world, one teenager at a time. I do this by making sure our school is the kind of place that both pulls and pushes teenagers to become the best version of themselves. I will have realized my goal when I’m walking down the street and instead of hearing someone say “what is that teenager doing”, I will hear “look at that kid, they are awesome.”