At the close of each school year, I am always drawn to reflect on my successes and failures, tallying plenty of both. This year was no exception—though one success stood out to me. About halfway through the year, I decided to try out something different with my students—an Ask a Grownup life advice question and answer series.
My inspiration came from an episode of This American Life I happened to have listened to that described a project by an online teen-girl-targeted magazine called “Ask a Grown Man” (readers would write in for life advice, and then celebrities such as Stephen Colbert or Seth Rogan would respond in a video). So, I assigned my students to do the same, to submit anonymous questions that I would answer as best as I could.
I knew that nothing encourages a disaffected teenager listen to an adult’s advice like a patronizing lecture, so I pointed out that they are often swimming in a collective sea of their own ignorance. When faced with the myriad dilemmas of high school life, they often say to themselves, “Hey, I know who has the perspective I need to help me face this challenge! The chemically imbalanced seventeen-year-old next to me!”
On a more serious note, I told them that life was messy and plagued with uncertainties, but that I would share honestly about my own successes and failures and offer what wisdom I had gleaned in my thirty-four years. I had no idea how it would go.
It was weird. It was awesome.
The questions ranged from poignant to silly. My first question was a tough one: “Why aren’t eyebrows considered facial hair?” But the ones that followed showed the broad array of pressures my students experience. I answered queries about how to manage finances, what to consider when choosing a college major, how to navigate political or religious differences with parents. I addressed bullying, mental health, life’s elusive purpose. Sometimes we neared tears. Other times our sides split with laughter.
I loved a lot of aspects of this school year, but these moments we carved out of our class time to wrestle with the insecurities and dilemmas intrinsic to students’ lives were among my favorites. I believe strongly in educating the whole person—equipping students with not just my discipline’s essential skills but also with those skills essential to living a full and worthy life.
After my class, I hope my students find themselves leaning into their better selves more—practicing more grace and forgiveness, agitating more for justice, inclining their hearts more toward love. And year after year, I find my students inspire me to do the same.