Everything a kid needs to know to survive high school has been written down by John Green. That is a fact as true as the earth revolving around the sun, high school kids sometimes acting like jerks and sometimes with breathtaking grace, and coffee being a requirement for a successful teaching career.
Whether you are entering your own classroom for the first time this September or heading back in for the start of your third decade, these quotes can serve as reminders of what is important in education and why we choose to spend our time helping kids navigate some of the most complicated years of their lives.
1. “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” (from The Fault in Our Stars)
This may be the most important thing to remember about your students. Their thoughts have all the qualities of stars burning out there in the firmament. Fiery spots illuminating the darkness, balls of searing heat that can light up the night and bring life to distant planets.
But despite the brilliance, their thoughts are often patternless. It is our job to help them see the patterns of their thoughts, how they can be pulled together into mythic animals and gods. We must guide them to a sense of cohesion amid the chaos.
2. “The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.” (from Looking for Alaska)
We have all had our hearts broken in high school, and we have all watched as the hearts of our students have shattered. Maybe it is their parents’ divorce. Or the end of their first romance. Maybe it is the death of a puppy, the verdict in the Philando Castille case, or the betrayal of a friend.
Either way, holding on to the anger is corrosive. Teenagers are great at righteous indignation. And if they want to survive high school, they are going to need some guidance in terms of understanding, empathy, and forgiveness.
3. “Books are the ultimate dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.” (from An Abundance of Katherines)
I am biased. I teach English. Still, my wife the AP Calc teacher agrees that books are like armor for kids who are struggling. They offer escape. They never judge you, and often show you how common your struggles are. Read YA books, and offer them as suggestions to your students. Hand out used copies (thriftbooks.com is amazing), and spread a little love. Start with John Green.
4. “That’s always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste.” (Paper Towns)
This one hangs in the front of my room as a reminder to my students that picking who you spend time with based on looks is idiotic. Magazine pages are filled with pretty people in all their touched up and airbrushed glory. Stunning starlets populate television shows.
We must constantly remind our students that real people don’t look like that. We must constantly tell them that their physical appearance is beautiful as it is and that it doesn’t matter nearly as much as society would have us all believe.
5. “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” (An Abundance of Katherines)
So many kids roam the halls awash in teenage apathy. Many others are afraid of failure, so they hedge their bets and play it safe.
If we are going to accomplish anything as educators, it must be to inspire them to try for the remarkable. Certainly, we must also make it OK to fall short of remarkable, but try they must.