Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Teachers aren't paid to care

The average teenager goes to school about 40 hours a week. We carry our books and backpacks from class to class and listen to teachers talk at us for about 6 to 7 hours a day. They teach us about history, pre-calculus, the periodic table, and the hidden meanings buried in works of literature. But how often do they actually ask us how we are doing or how our day, week, life is going? If your teachers are anything like mine, your answer is probably “never” or “rarely.”

I get that their job is to teach us, but isn’t there more to teaching than lecturing and assigning homework…

Kids and teenagers are also not just students. We are a many parts of a complicated whole. We have feelings, thoughts, ideas, hardships, families, and lives outside of our text books and homework.

When I was younger I remember watching movies where teachers would change kids’ lives by just paying attention and engaging with their students on a real level. I believed these movies were real, because most of my elementary teachers actually did seem to care. Then I got to high school and I realized that these movie teachers did not exist. In real life, high school teachers aren’t paid to care.

At least that is what I thought until I actually had one who did.

My school has many electives, but one of the best ones we to offer is called Interpersonal Relationships. For the first time in my whole school career I felt like I belonged. A lot of that had to do with the teacher, because, for once, we didn't just have to sit and listen, we got to speak our minds. We were able to express how difficult life was for us without judgment. We talked about human issues--From communication, to mental health, to reproduction—and about how these issues applied in our own lives.

Have you ever been in a classroom with a teacher that actually made you feel wanted and important and loved? Cause that is exactly what this class was like. My teacher actually wanted to know what it was like for us and respected what we had to say. What a concept! An adult who actually wants to learn from a teenager and shows them respect.

I think our school system has forgotten that learning is more than just a test score. We all need someone to look up to and someone to be there for us. If more schools had classes  like interpersonal relationships I think students would be more engaged in the process of learning and have more motivation to actually show up to class. Classes like this offer teachers the chance to see their students as real people, instead of a name on a clip board.  

I will never forget what I learned from that class. I think more teachers and students need to experience a real connection to each other-- A space where we can meet eye to eye and understand where everyone is coming from. Growing up and life aren’t easy, no matter what someone’s age, gender, race, etc. More people need a crash course on being in someone else's shoes.
Classes like this should be more wide spread. We all deserve the chance to learn in a safe and supportive environment. We are not just a statistic. We are real people with real issues. Issues that a text book or a test is going to help us solve. We need teachers who care. We need school systems that care.

We have a lot to say, isn’t it time that adults in our lives started listening.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Coming to Terms with Counseling

The room has the conflicting aesthetic of a sterile professional space that someone has tried desperately to make homey. I am overly aware of how uncomfortably I’m sitting, but the couch rustles loudly every time I shift. I tell myself I shouldn’t be here, I don’t need this. But when I glance
at my little brother perched awkwardly on the couch beside me, I realize that this goes beyond me and my discomfort.

When my parents told me they were getting divorced, I went for a walk around my neighborhood and cried for fifteen minutes. I decided that when I reentered my house I would have come to terms with all my negative feeling and would be entirely able to deal with it. And for a while, that’s pretty much what I did: I mentioned my parents’ separation casually to friends and assured them I wasn’t upset, I told my parents I understood their decision and had no problem with it, I even convinced myself that the whole situation was hardly worth thinking about.

Because of my self-perceived fineness, I was indignant when my parents insisted that my brother and I see a therapist to process the separation and our newly-formed family dynamic. Though I had friends that saw therapists regularly and had no issue with counseling on an intellectual level, misguided pride kept telling me that talking about what was going on was admitting that there was a problem, and that it meant I couldn’t handle things on my own.

I maintained this stubborn perspective until I noticed the way my brother would glaze over when people asked him about the divorce, and his falsely-confident assurances that everything was alright. Finally I realized that by thinking of myself as somehow above therapy, all I was doing was buying into the destructive notion that asking for help and processing things on an emotional level somehow makes people inferior. Not only was this an unhealthy way for me to deal with what was happening, I was also enforcing for my brother the cultural notion that – especially with boys and masculine people – having  or acknowledging emotions is somehow correlated with weakness.

Now I am waiting with my brother for our new therapist to arrive, trying hard to fight my deep-seated discomfort with vulnerability and finally start to understand the strength that it takes to ask for help. Looking over at the pale, pimply 14 year old who people always say looks so much like me, I know that I have a responsibility to be the role model that shows my brother that being honest about feelings takes a lot more courage than clinging to “I can handle it.”

If you want to get in touch with a counseling service or talk to someone about anything going on in your life, Teen Link is a great place to start. You can call Teen Link at (866) 833-6546 any day from 6-10 pm or chat through 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Epidemic of College Confidential

As a typical, angsty teenager hoping to get into a competitive school next year I spend a lot of my down time on College Confidential, an online counseling company that offers forums on topics like admission chances, standardized testing and school life. Yet, while the website claims to offer “counseling,” the website serves more like a gauge for the college admission stress level. The anonymous masses on College Confidential certainly did not invent the anxiety that comes with applying to college, but like a megaphone they amplify it 24 hours a day.

What started out as a wonderful idea- a website offering free advice and guidance to high schoolers around the world- has turned into a website where in moderated discussions strangers belittle each other, put into question the intelligence of individuals and judge each other based on the schools they get accepted into.
A home of rampant bragging, after five minutes of reading, College Confidential will leave you feeling completely insufficient. After all, on College Confidential you will find someone who not only has 20 APs, a 4.0 GPA, a 2600 on the SAT, but who has also ended world hunger over summer break.

Despite my objections to College Confidential, there is a lot of value to the site. Apart from the discussion forums the rest of the site offers a lot of advice for the college search. Sections like “Ask the Dean,” where professionals in the field are responding to frequently asked questions, are a great resource to understanding the long and complicated college process. There is also a substantial collection of helpful articles on subjects like paying for college and student life.

So my advice to you is to stray away from the College Discussion Forums. But if you absolutely cannot resist the temptation of scrolling through them, wear your thickest skin as chances are only about 1% of the people posting on the website are telling the truth. Do not listen to the posts that discourage you from applying to certain schools. And if you will be going to what is classified as a “crap school” on College Confidential, be proud because you have risen above hooked masses that only live for name and rank.

Make your own decisions and speak with the real college guru- your guidance counselor. You’ll be amazed by how helpful they can be.

If you ever feel like you are being made feel small, ridiculed or cyber-bullied, Teen Link is ready to help. You can call (866) 833- 6546 any day from 6-10 pm or chat through

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ordinary People

I live on a quiet street where not much happens. I take out the trash on Tuesdays at the same time that the old man in the house across from mine does. We are ordinary people doing ordinary things.  We come from ordinary families that live ordinary lives. I never thought that anything could shatter this “ordinary” bubble of ours.

My neighbor was diagnosed with Alzheimer and the same time that my brother was diagnosed with Depression. My street suddenly went from “ordinary” to “not-so-ordinary”.

I wonder how it all happened. How I grew up with so much happiness while my brother, who was never more than a finger’s reach away, grew up with so much sadness. I feel helpless. My brother was always the one who fought my battles for me. He was the one who made the scary dreams float away and the scary girls run away. But I can’t fight my brother’s battle for him. I cannot save my brother from himself. I can only offer my bad jokes and burnt cakes to try and ease the suffering.

Sometimes the loud rumbling of wheels disrupts the quiet of my street. When this happens I go to my window and I see my neighbor wheeling his trashcans to the edge of the road. I want to shout out that the garbage truck came yesterday and that the trashcans are already empty, but what is the point? I can’t imagine how is wife and children feel knowing that his yesterdays are disappearing and his tomorrows are uncertain. But I can imagine that they feel a bit like me.

While I sometimes wish that I could rewind back to the long summers spent fishing tadpoles from the pond with a brother who knew nothing but laughter, I have come to accept that this brother with all his dark clouds and monsters is the same brother of my childhood. I have come to understand that he is not “dis-abled” because of his illness. He is still just as abled as he was before. Perhaps he is more-abled because he can be fighting a battle in his mind and still be living.

Things may be different, but they are not that different. I still take out the trash on Tuesdays at the same time that the old man in the house across from mine does. We are still ordinary people doing ordinary things. My brother is still that incredibly intelligent, slightly annoying person that I grew up with. My neighbor is still the reserved, quiet but awfully kind man that brought ginger cookies over for Christmas. I have come to realize that what makes a person is something more than neurons, proteins and defective molecules of DNA. It is their soul and spirit, which cannot be tarnished or destroyed by any kind of illness.

Being diagnosed with a mental disorder is like being branded with a scarlet letter A. Many look at that scarlet letter A and write that person off. But try to look beyond it. Look at that person in the eye and talk directly to them. Because after all they are just ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives.

If you are ever struggling to deal with a loved one’s illness or if you are struggling with anything at the moment, Teen Link is always ready to offer some help. You can call (866) 833- 6546 any day from 6-10 pm or chat through