I found out about Joey's death at the end of the day on a Monday--talk about an awful start to the week. It was also the last week of the term, so I was working on putting together finals, getting caught up on grades, and simply trying not to pull my hair out. It seemed as if my kids decided that it would also be a great week to just be CRAZY. By Friday, I had had enough of my high school students, so I decided it was time to remind them of all the things they have to offer--and to remind myself, because there were some of them that had pushed me to my breaking point.
So, I got out my stack of white note cards and had each student write their name at the top. I picked them all up, and then randomly passed the cards out, so that my students wouldn't be worried about who had their card. Then, I gave them 30 seconds to write something positive and meaningful about each of their classmates. To keep things interesting, I also put a card in the mix for myself--at this point, I needed to be reminded of the good things I had been doing. Each card was passed around until it was full of positive comments.
But, because these are freshman and sophomores in high school, of course there were some interesting comments on each of their cards. One of my male students' card read, "You're annoying, but nice." He was definitely a little put off by this comment, and I can't really blame him. But the point of this activity was not for students to point out the flaws or imperfections of their classmates nor was it for them to write lies. So we had a little discussion about other people's opinions of us, and it included these points:
- Should other people's opinions be the ONLY things that dictate how we act or dress or what we believe? Absolutely not!
- Should we think about how other people view us? Yes! We spend our entire life trying to make a good impression.
- Can we change as individuals? Yes! Especially when you are only 14 or 15!
- Should we try our hardest to get along with our peers? Yes! Like it or not, these are going to be your people for at least the next 4 years of high school, so you better be able to tolerate them and vice versa.
Looking back now, I realize how Joey-like this activity was. Not only was Joey "one of my people" in high school, he was also someone who never let the opinions of others get to him. He definitely marched to the beat of a very unique drum, but I believe that he used the comments and opinions of other people to make him into the truly extraordinary individual that he was, not to define or limit him.
That's what I was hoping my students would understand. Yes, you might be labeled as the "annoying, but nice" kid, but does that have to define you forever? No. Maybe you want to be the annoying kid--that's fine, but is that really how you want to be personified for the next 4 years? Instead of being the annoying kid, maybe you could be the kid that follows directions or is always willing to help others. Instead of letting the opinions of others dictate your static behaviors, let their opinions create a dynamic individual. Someone who understands the importance of a leaving a good impression, but who is not afraid to stand up for his beliefs, have a unique fashion sense, or even a slightly eccentric hairstyle.