Words from Students

We have parent-teacher conferences later this week and it often strikes me that the parents and I know very different young people. This could be because I know them as students while their parents know them as children, or because I only see them for 80 structured minutes every other day. It might be because I see them around their friends in a different context than their parents do, or just because school and home are very different places. I enjoy sharing what I know with parents and, at the same time, learning about these young people from people who know them well.

An interesting thread of discussion I’ve heard from several grade 11 students recently, one that I don’t expect their parents are aware of, is that they wish their parents would pay more attention to them. This came up in several contexts, but there are two that stood out:

  1. Frustration from reasonably self-sufficient students with siblings who are not
  2. Frustration from students with siblings away at university

Both groups have said things like, “They’re constantly on top of him because he won’t do any of his work if they aren’t but I’m like, ‘Hello? Anyone interested in what I’m doing?'” and “I thought that once she went to college they’d stop focusing on her as much, but they still FaceTime her all the time and I’m like, ‘I’m here, too!'”

What strikes me here is not that students want attention – I know they do. They often come to class with an entirely unrelated question or something to share or just need a moment to complain. I have a feeling they appreciate a face-to-face encounter with someone who is not also holding a phone and scrolling through emails, messages, or Facebook while nodding and replying, “mhmm” at appropriate times, a phenomenon I often observe on the MRT, in restaurants, and walking down the street.

My students are pretty open about the negative impacts they feel that social media has had on their lives, as well as the pressure they experience to be within reach and involved at all times. They feel anxiety when they can’t be connected because so much rides on constant status updates, posts, and likes.

It worries me that much of the above counts as connection at all.

The teenagers I work with are also eager to talk about the importance of authentic personal connection and relationships over what exists in cyberspace. They readily admit to feeling lonely, isolated, and anxious whether they’re surrounded by people or not. I feel that, too, at times, and I didn’t have a smart phone until I was in my early 20s. I can’t imagine how it has been growing up with no quiet or boredom or permission to just ignore everyone and everything.

In all generations, teenagers often get a bad rap for just about anything they do (an ad recognizing this has been running in movie theatres lately). Instead of brushing them off as kids crying for attention, consider why they want to be noticed. Consider the incredible pressure on them to make something of themselves, do something worthwhile, and understand the world around them.

Young people have a lot to teach and offer the rest of us and just need a chance to do that. Listen to them. They have things to say, questions to ask, stories to share. They’re great people and I’m looking forward to learning a bit more about them through the conversations I’ll have with their parents later this week.

Titanium: A Commentary

You shout it out
But I can’t hear a word you say
I’m talking loud not saying much
I’m criticized but all your bullets ricochet
You shoot me down, but I get up

We all know that words hurt. We all know that words can beat us down and tear us apart. We do children an injustice when we teach them,” Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” We’re lying and we know it.

Communication can be difficult because it requires us to step outside of ourselves and listen to what someone else is saying. We should only reply once we’ve truly heard them, but many of us do not take the time to listen.

I’m bulletproof nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium, I am titanium, I am titanium, I am titanium

We are often the target of words that are not meant for us and have nothing to do with us. Words often say more about someone else than they do about us. These are the words that should not hurt, but we know that they do. We have a tendency to fixate on criticism, angry tones, words that have caused us pain. We remember them.

But we also bask in words of comfort. We save messages, notes, and letters that are meaningful to us and cause a smile, even (and perhaps especially) years later. We replay these words over and over in our minds, memorizing the most important things our loved ones have said. They give us courage when we lose our way.

If you’re made of titanium, can you feel those things?

Cut me down
But it’s you who has further to fall
Ghost town, haunted love
Raise your voice, sticks and stones may break my bones
I’m talking loud not saying much

Silence can be as deafening as painful words.(And there are indeed things we should not hear, things we should not be forced to listen to.) We fill silence by looking for things to do, things to say. We block others out when we turn their words to noise, when we cease to give them meaning.

Sometimes, we should also listen to silence. It has layers and textures. Sometimes it crackles. Sometimes it’s cruelly cold. But other times, it’s safe and warm. What does the silence between our words say to us? What does it say about us?

I’m bulletproof nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium, I am titanium

I am not bulletproof. I have much to lose. If you shoot me, I’ll fall. I will hurt, I will break, I will mourn. I am human, only human.

I will fall but I will get up again. I’ll get up again because I have let myself feel, I have listened, and I have learned. I let you in knowing you might hurt me or that I might hurt you. I let you in knowing I might love you or you might love me.

Stone-hard, machine gun
Firing at the ones who run
Stone-hard, thus bulletproof glass

I no longer wrap myself in armour. I’d rather know and love than never know. Any authentic, meaningful connection with others requires vulnerability; we need to be and to feel.

You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
I am titanium

I might fall. I might be wounded. I might miss how we used to laugh or talk or spend time together.

But if I fall, I’ll stand up again. Because that’s living. It’s a journey through a landscape of hills, valleys, and mountains. We pass through wild forests and neat gardens. Sometimes we know what lies around the corner and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we find ourselves lost or confused. We lose our way.

Armour can be tempting when we’re afraid but if we are unwilling to shed the armour, who are we, really? There’s life and there’s living. We might have a life protecting ourselves, but the adventure is in living.

Silent Disco Asia

Ever been overwhelmed at a party? Lights are too bright, music is too loud (or just plain bad), and there are too many people? Ever caught between wanting to join your friends for the night and wanting to DJ on your own?

As I learned last weekend, Silent Disco Asia has a solution!

Three DJs curate three different radio channels and one simply flicks a switch on wireless headphones to choose the channel and adjust the volume to their heart’s content. If the dance floor itself gets too crowded, the headphones reach outside and upstairs to the rooftop for more breathing room and beautiful views of Marina Bay. From there, you can see the light installations that are part of the iLight Festival and on view until the end of the month.

Me to my roommate: Take a picture of the back of my head for blog purposes.

In addition to being a lot of fun and a great way to literally dance the night away, silent disco allowed for excellent people watching. Headphones seemed to reduce many inhibitions that people feel sometimes on the dance floor; there was a great array of big moves and loud singing with a boldness that is far less common. The most hilarious part by far was taking off the headphones for a moment and listening to all the truly awful singing from people with huge smiles on their faces. Every so often, I’d make eye contact with someone else and we’d laugh, sharing our delight.

That’s what I enjoyed most about silent disco. People were there to spend time with their friends, sing as loudly as they were dancing, and just enjoy the music. When my friends frantically pointed to their headphones in obvious excitement, I’d change channels until I found what they were listening to (as I have trouble with spatial things, I could not for the life of me keep track of the three possible positions for the switch). Sometimes, I’d stick with my friends’ songs and we’d sing together, though other times I’d shake my head and flip back through the channels, laughing at the way our dancing did or did not line up.

It was a happy evening during which social awkwardness or anxiety didn’t seem to play a role for anyone. Maybe it takes a certain type of person to even consider silent disco, or maybe having your own space (and therefore the explicit freedom to do your own thing) in the midst of a crowd provided enough individualism and autonomy to make it easy to do just that – be an individual.

Interested? Silent Disco Asia will be here for the next two weekends and they’re advertising an upcoming Bollywood night. $25 gets you admission, a beverage, and guaranteed great music. Have a wonderful time!

Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by a twenty-something teacher trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place