August 13, 2013

Yesterday was International Youth Day. This is a good time to pause and appreciate young people and their contributions to this great world. In honor of today, I’d like to share a story about how I was shamed by a ninth grader.


When I was a student teacher I had to record myself teaching a lesson. This was part of my final college assignment and had the potential to make or break my teaching certification. Obviously, I was tense about it going well. Prior to pressing “record” I gave the class a thorough speech on the importance of making me look good. I would teach them, they would listen, and that was all. Once I was confident I had inspired them into being model citizens (in a dictatorship) I began my lesson.


About 15 minutes in, however, I spotted two students in the back row playing Black Jack at their desks. Black Jack! I was livid. I couldn’t believe these students would be so obvious about not paying attention to my teaching. I wasn’t one of those boring teachers, after all. I was young! I was creative! I was including art in my history lesson! Sure that there could be no possible explanation for their card-playing, other than evil in their veins, I angrily and publicly asked them to explain their disobedience.


The entire class waited for their response. One of the guys looked up at me, thought about it, and with disarming honesty replied, “The questions you’re asking don’t test whether or not we’ve read the chapter.They’re too easy. I can answer them without listening.”




I was silent because he was right.


I had assumed my age and position meant I automatically understood the classroom and content better than the students. I was wrong andI needed that (video recorded) moment to become a better teacher and to realize the importance of the students’ insight.


Time and experience are incredibly valuable. I’m sure I know more now than I knew when I was 14, but I also forget more. I forget that there are other answers than my own. I forget that people have other needs than the ones I’ve diagnosed. And I forget that plans and concepts are not the purpose of my work, the lives of the students are the purpose.


When I began to plan for that history lesson it didn’t cross my mind to include the students’ perspective. To be honest, I assumed I already knew their perspective. I thought it was simply my job to give them what they needed. I had it, they didn’t. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only time I’ve made that mistake and it’s a mistake that individuals and institutions make all the time. We serve, teach, coach, and train youth, but we don’t often listen.


On International Youth Day, I’m grateful for the boldness and the honesty of young people. That history lesson was bad and I’m glad that student stuck his neck out to help me improve it. More importantly, I’m thankful he taught me to listen.  


Maybe I’ll even send him a new deck of cards to make up for the ones I confiscated that day.    


Jack Mackinnon

Youth Development Director


Tomorrow, Stefan Van Voorst will share his reflections on this week's International Youth Day.