In previous articles, I’ve written about the importance of connecting with teenagers long after they have been ‘officially’ yours. Perhaps they were in your charge when they were in middle school or junior high, and now, they are in senior high, they have graduated high school, or maybe have gone on to graduate college, get married and have children of their own. Regardless of any of those landmarks (as significant as they may be), still recognizing your kids from when they were early teenagers can be extremely empowering to them.
I was blessed enough to have a PERFECT example of such an adult who was one of my mentors in my early adolescence. She kept in touch with how I was doing after graduation and sent me a gift of recognition on my first day of teaching. She is one of my two “goddesses” of teaching: Dr. Cherrie Steele.
Dr. Steele, or Mrs. Steele, as she was known the year she was my sixth-grade English teacher, was easily the best teacher I ever had throughout my public school career. I had some wonderful teachers; Mrs. Steele was simply the best. What made her the best was the unwavering message that was often unspoken, that every one of her kids mattered to her no matter what. She loved her kids with a big heart and big smile, regardless of what negative actions they may have chosen to involve themselves in with others or on their own.
Mrs. Steele did not grant that thoughtfulness because she was a “Pollyanna” or “uninformed” about what her kids were doing, and she certainly did not grant some kids those privileges because of their social status while ignoring other kids because of their lack of socioeconomic status; she chose to rise above all of that politics and show ALL of her kids Unconditional Love. That was her greatest gift she showed to ALL of her students. It is also a gift that seems to be undervalued more and more today in lieu of test scores, AYP, or arbitrary standards school districts have set which really make no difference to any particular student. For that reason, unconditional love seems all the more necessary.
Dr. Cheryl Steele held a position as a high-standing member in the Education Department at the University of Central Oklahoma. UCO was lucky to have her. In my heart, she still remains to be a “Goddess of Teaching”. The ultimate reason is because of her unwavering love for her students. Nothing else is more important than that quality. The fact that she had a forum to pass on that quality is a blessing—one that I hope her education students appreciated more than test scores or AYP. As teen mentors, the FIRST requirement we must reach with each teenager is to show him or her that we care for them and will stand up for them unconditionally. All of the rest falls into place after that.