What They Teach Me by Dean of Students Marcela Maldonado
As has been stated in various venues and via mediums, this has been a year noted for more transitions than will occur in an average year at Nobles. Certainly for me, almost everything I’ve been involved with this year would be categorized as new opportunities and interesting challenges. In the mix of all of this, among those things that would definitely be considered on the periphery of my new role this year has been my involvement in the Peer Help Program, which I coordinate along with Mark Spence, our Director of Counseling.
PHP is a great leadership opportunity for those interested in making a positive effect on student life at Nobles and who want to leave an imprint on school culture. It is a group comprised of juniors and seniors who gather together generally every other week, to discuss the tone and culture of the school, and who work to build community in various ways. These include peer-to-peer help for students dealing with difficult situations, and by providing information to the community on issues relevant to them. This group also provides free peer tutoring and assists periodically during the year with teaching PD classes to underclassmen.
Without question, the most important contribution to the general school culture this year has been the formation of “NED Talks” in assembly, Nobles’ own version of the famed TED Talks phenomenon. In very short order, these have now become somewhat of a staple of assembly, expected by the community to occur with some regularity, and the response from people asking for the opportunity to deliver a NED Talk has truly been heartening. As much as NED (and TED!) talks are about learning, they really are about teaching. The difference is on the emphasis of the experience, the power differential taking place. “Learning” assumes a reception of data or information that we then interpret via our own prism. “Teaching” is an intentional act or activity, usually with a circumscribed purpose, and irrespective of how the information might ultimately be untangled by the consumer.
I have enjoyed some really great teachers this year, and they have come in the form of 15 students I get to meet with each time PHP gathers, a group of kids who delightfully represent a cross-section of this community. I have often been very aware of how active the power differentiator has been in that room as these students intentionally, and with great confidence and aplomb, impart how they see themselves and the world around them. The most important things they have taught me are not unknown to me, but when clearly and unabashedly articulated by a teenager, have a power all their own. These include the notion of fierce loyalty to one another, or how to exist in a pressure cooker, or, most refreshingly, being obsessed with a solution. I have learned that when young people want to get something done, they think of every possible way to do so. When they desperately yearn for something to come to fruition, they are able to piece together an amazing plan to get what they want without the self-limiting inner voice that most of us develop once we are adults.
So in a year of transitions for the school, personal and professional transitions of my own, and moments of melancholy for the days when I taught many more kids than I do today, the serendipitous role that this group of “teachers” has played in my life and in the life of the school, has been profound. More importantly, in a year and “end-of-school” season in which young people have endured the usual media scrutiny and questions about their lack of character and perspective, and about the fault lines placed on them by the adults in their lives (thank you David Brooks & the NY Times!), I am all too aware of how easy and unfair it can be to paint young people with broad strokes. While I have surely taught less this year, I certainly learned more.