My first job out of college was teaching Spanish for grades 7–11 at a private school in New Jersey. I started right before I turned 22. I left way before I turned 23.
Fast-forward many, many moons when I found myself in a high school classroom again, this time in one NYC public school’s ninth grade to talk about social media.
Don’t ask. Those of you who know me will find this laughable since I am a recovering technophobe who probably wouldn’t even be online if I didn’t kinda have to be for my type of work.
It all happened very quickly — I was asked on a Wednesday if I would start the first of six classes the following Monday, and without much thinking said yes, I guess because I trusted the person and wanted to see if I could now handle the critters that gave me so much grief way back when. Besides, I’ve been speaking/teaching for years, and I remember ninth grade being my favorite at the time, so why not? Social media? Apparently the entire curriculum would be provided, I just had to deliver it.
HAH! After the first day, with little to no preparation or training, it was like being thrown into a tank with 40 cranky sharks — what did I get myself into?!?! I held my own, but nearly quit. Other days it was like wrangling cats. But there were a few days of pure magic.
After surveying the students and finding out they spend nearly 100% of their free time on social media, I realized that a.) that’s the first problem, and b.) beyond the general predator and online reputation issues (along with their celebrity obsession), when looked at through the lens of cyberbullying and the associated psychological and physical tolls — as in murders and suicides — it quickly occurred to me that having them understand the proper and positive use of social media, texting and the internet could not be a more important and serious assignment…and that it was quite literally a matter of life and death. In other words, I realized that since they live most of their lives on social media, I was really there to teach them about life.
Aha! Now that made sense, because that is what I do for my day job. Let’s just say I tweaked the lesson plans I was provided.
It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. I could go on telling you how much I learned about kids, education, their future, our future, and the culpability of adults; the upsetting things I discovered about how our youth behave, what they think, what they do to each other; how they only care about being famous; how I tried in our short time together to turn some of those things upside down and instill them with completely new empowering ideas and perspectives (yes, the Golden Rule was one of the “new” concepts introduced after you could hear crickets when asked if anyone could tell me what it was); and how I held their attention with my knowledge of Justin Bieber (yes, I saw Never Say Never and was impressed — don’t laugh — it was relevant because of how he used YouTube to become famous, but he is/was extremely talented and worked hard even though he’s had some trouble lately…not to mention second highest amount of followers on Twitter etc.)
I know this is probably the first and only time some of these kids will hear about such things, and I’m pretty sure I reached at least a few who will now think a little differently about their lives and the consequences of their actions, both online and off. But I know for sure there was at least one who truly got it.
After the third lesson, which was the first on cyberbullying and the aforementioned wrangling cats day, I was caught off-guard when after class, a soft spoken but confident kid from the back of the room came up to me, shook my hand and said “Miss, I just wanna let you know I really appreciate you.” He had me at appreciate! But he went on to say how disgusted he was with his classmates, that they weren’t taking this seriously and that he had been listening to a lot of Bob Marley lately and was looking for his purpose, how he wanted to be a leader and that today he found his calling. STOP THE PRESSES. “Purpose” and “calling” were the exact words he used. I cannot make this up. And you can imagine to someone who does a talk called “Who Are You and What Are You Supposed to Be Doing with Your Life?” it was like winning the lottery.
My work was done, (or as my new colleague Karim goes: “Boom!” while gesturing the dropping of a mic and exiting stage left.) even if no one else got it and they did not listen to the next three lessons!
Junior (his actual nickname) and I talked about how he might accomplish such a mission, and I asked if he would like to start by talking to the class. Our final day together he did just that — the first time he ever spoke in front of a room! And he was an unlikely candidate to do so according to him and his teachers who say he’s not a great student, and he admittedly wasn’t even the best kid but recently had a change of heart — and my class helped to solidify and confirm his new direction. With no coaching from anyone, he spoke for almost 15 minutes about how his peers need to wake up and take life and education “fa real” and do something that helps others. I couldn’t have been more inspired and proud, as I know for anyone, especially at that age, to get up in such an environment and speak his truth was quite remarkable. It was one of the best days of my life.
I tell you all this because I did not do anything special — all I did was listen to my gut, show up, be myself and do my thing, which is all you can ever do, regardless of the context. You never know what the bigger plan is and how affecting just one person can make a huge difference. The Universe knows what it’s doing — and what it had to do to get me in the same room with that 14-year-old boy was nothing short of a miracle.
Still not a Belieber? Whether you’re 15 or 51 you’re never too young or too old to take responsibility for your life, discover who you are and be confident enough to share it with the world. Give me a buzz and I’ll help you offer more than just a #Selfie to have a positive impact in the Twitterverse and beyond….
(Originally published on www.kristinaleonardi.com on April 30, 2014)
About the Author:
Kristina Leonardi is a career/life coach and motivational speaker who has a proven record of getting “stuck” clients empowered to make lasting changes aligned with their true passions and talents in a short time. She provides a practical framework for each individual to make the most of their personal and professional lives, allowing them to recognize, connect to, and fulfill their role in the world at large and live with clarity, balance and direction. For more information visit www.kristinaleonardi.com or check out her profile on The Muse’s Coach Connect.
Click here to check out Kristina’s book of 131 “thought-provoking, inspirational and entertaining essays to keep you connected to yourself and this journey called Life” Personal Growth Gab (PGG) Volume One from Amazon.
Read more about me and my work in these essays, which I refer to as PGG’s: