Hopefully, my former students learned lots from our time together, but I learned just as much from them. One amazing characteristic of young people is their enthusiasm and willingness to participate. When teaching, I tried an activity that worked with middle-school students and failed with adults - "personal interviews" to get to know students. I would start by asking for a volunteer. No adult would raise a hand without more information. Only a few high school students volunteered. However, practically every student in a middle-school class volunteers. I love that! Somewhere along the growing-up process following middle-school we learn to hesitate, to not commit right away, or to worry about what others think of us.
When the bell rings to end a period of volunteering, often with my doing a lesson on poetry, I always have a line of students in front of me. They haven't had a chance to share during class, and they absolutely want me to know what they are thinking. They don't leave until their turn comes because they are confident that I want to know about their thoughts and experience. One-on-one is powerful. These students constantly make me aware of how important it is that I listen carefully to those around me, of any age, and to honor their ideas.
Young people are passionate about their interests and expect to be successful. When I sponsor writing contests twice a year at Lesher Middle School, only a few win but all the kids expect to win. That's why this April, National Poetry Month, each grade will have 25 poets recognized. From that group, a couple of top winners will be selected, but I want to encourage all of them to continue writing, whether they win a top prize or not. Eventually they will learn that the creative writing process is worth the work on its own.
When I work in the Media Center (what used to be called the school library) and can't figure out how to solve a computer problem, all I have to do is ask one of these teenagers. They know exactly what to do, and they love being "the teacher" to a teacher. Young people have been raised with technology and can help parents, grandparents and neighbors use this great tool.
I can't imagine living in a retirement community that doesn't have young people. I'm thankful that Fort Collins schools have so many opportunities for volunteers so I can spend time each week with teenagers. It's a win-win. I continue to learn as much from them as they do from me.