Most people who don’t work with teenagers have a preconceived notion of who they are and what they are. In other words, they don’t really know them. At Proctor, we celebrate the awesomeness of teenagers everyday and in every way.
In fact, in the most mundane and ordinary of places – at the airport, at a dinner party, in casual conversations, and in nearly every place I travel – whenever I meet non-school people who are unconnected to schools and who hear that I work in a high school, and a boarding school at that, it’s clear they don’t get teenagers–at all. They say something to the effect of, “Man, that must be a tough job you have!” Or, “What did they do to get ‘sent away’?” I always cock my head sideways, just a little like a dog hearing a tennis shoe scrape across a hardwood floor, and say something back like, “When was the last time you were in a school?” Or, “Have you ever heard of ‘Proctor Academy’?”
Sadly, they often haven’t.
At Proctor, we take that knowing and understanding of teenagers to a whole new level of explaining the myriad of “why” teenagers get the rap they get. If you were looking for that view on teens, especially Proctor teens, then let me explain to you three reasons why I think they are amazing creatures.
First, they are funny in spite of themselves. Teenagers understand that they must create, in their safe groups, a way to make their lives fun and livable. They laugh hard and heartily at the “everyday-ness” and the “ordinary” of life. They word play, and point out the inanity in the lives and rules of adults. They see the world often as the way that it should be, without compromising what it actually is at times. They go on, like Sisyphus and his boulder, back up the proverbial hill, only to watch the big rocks of their current lives roll back down the hill to the bottom. Do they get a bit funky and depressed from disappointment? Certainly, they do. But instead of like Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus,” they go skipping back down the hill, trying to find not the same size rock but one that might be easier to handle and to roll – up. What examples do I have of their mirth and merriment in the phase of what ordinary mortals might call defeat and loss? Just ride back on a team bus after a horrendous blowout loss to a rival. As a reasonably sane competitive adult, I think, “What the heck, I would be crushed, if I were them.” Oftentimes, they are a bit down, but not for long. It’s not like they don’t care. It’s just that they have to get up the next morning and go to school, and they’re hungry. After a Chipotle or McDonalds or Kwik Mart later, they are different; they don’t do what normal adult people might do. They get over it, knowing that there are other losses and wins on the horizon for them to chase and roll.
Two, teenagers love trying to understand what it means to be just. Oftentimes it comes across as annoying to adults. But teenagers have a keen sense of justice for themselves and for their fellow students. They regale each other with stories about fairness, but they come to understand that they don’t live in an ideal or just world sometimes. They certainly may wish to, but they get soon enough that life can be tough for some, and even for them at times. After all, they have all of those people judging them all the time for what they are not. “Well, back in my day…” Teens roll their eyes at the “back in my day-ers,” sometimes just to spite them. Teens are also awesome because they know that their lives may be altered by the adults who have botched this whole climate change and racial equity thing, among other issues. And yet, they still join clubs, play games, attend practices, laugh at third grade bathroom humor, and respect the hierarchy and fallibility of their fellow humans, namely adults; adults who sometimes have a hard time acknowledging their foibles, mistakes, and vulnerabilities. These people, these teens have a keen sense of fairness that is rooted in being in a place, especially here in this place – Proctor – that nurtures that sense of love for the individual connecting to the wider community.
Last but not least, the teenage brains are still growing and adapting, requiring fuel in the worst way, yet also understanding that they are here – at Proctor – to become the people they were always meant to be. That means that they will make a ton of mistakes and a ton of friends. They rub each other the wrong way, yet they love each other like there is no tomorrow. Exhibit A for this is simply the opening week and weeks of school here at Proctor. Our students have grown inches and brain matter in a very short amount of time. Sure, their amygdalas get hijacked often, when they get homesick, and they are bulking up on their gray matter’s prefrontal cortex throughout the time that we have them. Yet, their brains change for the better at Proctor because we love challenging them to do the hard and uncomfortable stuff that stretches beyond what they ever thought possible. The world teaches them that. We point out these bigger than life lessons while we have them. We know that this time will be more memorable because while we have them, we understand that what they learn the most and the deepest may be more than what’s in the four walls of a classroom. It is the place they long to be–and we know it!
That is why our model of education at Proctor is so important. That is why we have stood the test of time. 175 years to be exact. The awesomeness of teenagers resounds through the walls and halls, across the forests and oceans, in Spain and France, and across the deserts of the American Southwest. Indeed, the awesomeness of teenagers is more than them being funny, just, or big brained. It means they get to roll up their sleeves and get down to business so that they can leave behind the trappings of childhood to become something more meaningful, more meaningful than even being an adult, to become human, empathetic, rational, and caring–now and forever.
Brian W. Thomas, Proctor Academy Head of School
Curated Reading and Listening:
The poet Billy Collins explains what is so apt and so right about the awesomeness of teenagers in “The Days of Teen-age Glory.” From the New Yorker, read and listen to it HERE.
- Head of School
- Residential Life