Something I learn more and more each day I teach teenagers is this:
We are not what we *want* to become, we are the choices we make everyday.
I suppose what I mean is that many young people believe that they need to “find themselves” or that they need to “try out a lot of different things so they can discover who they are”. The problem with this is that while you are “finding yourself” or “trying out things” you make choices that may be irrevocable and life-altering. So the next time you think you want to try something new or do something illicit or immoral you may want to think that the choice you make has consequences – regardless if it is a good choice or a bad choice. You just need to decide if you’re willing to live with the consequences (whether good or bad).
Too many young people feel they are “forced” to make a choice they don’t want to make. But this is far from the truth. We all can make a choice to do the right thing or the wrong thing. The right thing may be the hard thing and the wrong thing may be the easy thing, but you do have the choice. Example: I have a choice to go to work on workdays. I don’t *have* to go to work. No one is forcing me. No one is holding a gun to my head. But if I make the choice to not go to work then I have to live with the consequences of possibly being fired and eventually possibly losing my house and all those things and people I hold dear. I’m not saying that’s a wrong choice necessarily, but it does have some apparently bad consequences. One could take it to the extreme and say that even if someone is holding a gun to your head you still have a choice. You just have to be willing to live (or die) with the consequences.
You may want to become an author or a photographer. But if you make wrong choices during that path to becoming an author or a photographer, you’ve possibly decreased the chances of becoming an author or photographer. I suppose this can be stated in another way:
the dreams we have of what we want to be are affected by the choices we make everyday.
It is choices we make, not what we want to be, that determines who we will become. The dream you have of what you want to be will hopefully provide you enough motivation to make the right choices.
I wish the students I work with everyday could truly understand this and then practice the self-discipline necessary to control their behavior and their actions to refrain from making wrong decisions.
(originally written Nov 12, 2012)
A comment made to the original article included:
Comment: “But what if something happens that really isn’t their fault. I mean needing to find who you are to me is important, especially as I had an identity crisis two years ago.”
Response: “We just have to remember, as I said, that while you are trying to “find who you are,” you are still making choices and those choices define who you are. Choices have consequences. Play the scenario out…
“Students, particularly the students I work with, have little or no regard for choices or consequences. That’s where I’m coming from on this. Many of them are “finding themselves”. But the funny thing about finding yourself is that when you’re done you often find yourself right back where you started (not always).
“T.S. Eliot writes in his poem Four Quartets the following:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
“But we need to remember that along the way if we make wrong choices we’ll end up being in places we don’t want to be and who we wanted to be will have had nothing to do with what we have become. This is part of John Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress, not to mention the Prodigal Son parable.
“See, you seem like a smart enough young man who makes thoughtful choices. We all make dumb choices from time to time and do completely off-the-wall, typical, dumb guy stuff. And they’re fun things to do. We laugh at the time and laugh when we remember them and reminisce. We should pause and remember that those actions could have ended another way and we’re just lucky we didn’t end up in jail. Maybe we should pause before we do those actions and take precautions to not end up in jail or the hospital! My students tend to lack that ability.
“And now apparently studies have come out saying that males lack complete executive functions of their brains until they’re 25?!?! Dang. No wonder we do stupid stuff. But that doesn’t excuse the behavior or the actions. It just makes us more aware of its causes so we can make more-informed choices.
“Yeah, things do happen that aren’t our fault. But how we react to it is our ‘fault.’ I guess what I’m trying to say is be proactive, rather than reactive. If we can be proactive and stay away from those things that cause us to make bad choices or where we could get in trouble, than we don’t have to react to things that were done to us.”
I had a student today that skated the boundaries of appropriate behavior all period. He wasn’t exactly…overtly misbehaving, but was a continual annoyance. He had done the same thing to the teachers before me and the ones after me. I wrote him up on a negative disciplinary referral. I then spoke to another teacher about how we needed a form to document behavior but didn’t require disciplinary action. Something to give the principal so she could talk to the student or send to the school social worker so we could assist them in improving behavior without punishing them – a “second chance” so to speak. He agreed that we needed something like that and he had often wanted to write a student up without disciplining the student.
Keeping with the theme of “You Matter,” I spoke to my principal about creating a form that a teacher could fill out for a student they want to send to the office but isn’t exactly a negative referral requiring disciplinary action. There are a number of times I have a student that I want to document behavior but don’t want disciplinary action to follow because I don’t think it would motivate the student to change their behavior. I believe sometimes the student just needs to know we care about him/her and s/he just needs to be talked to to see if there is someway we can help. But the student also needs to know that the situation is serious and needs to be handled. I suppose my thought could be summed up in the words of American educator and author, Dr. Marvin Marshall, “Each time you coerce someone into doing something by using your power of authority, you deprive that person of an opportunity to become more responsible.”
The students I work with need to feel they have made an active choice in their behavior, not simply coerced into the choice because of negative consequences. She thought it was a good idea. We’ll see if it comes to fruition. If it does, we’ll have a positive referral, a counseling referral, and a negative referral. I think the counseling referral is a perfect addition in light of making students feel they matter and not simply another problem for some teacher or administrator to fix.