New teacher diaries

The mean girls

New Teacher Diaries

An unwritten perk of being a high school teacher: there are plenty of opportunities to revisit one’s own high school memories (ah, The Awkward Years, Volume 1). The things that were unfair to me then are still unfair to my students. The things I tried to pull past my teachers then are still attempted in my classroom.

My mind regularly flashes back to moments of my 14-year-old self, like not quite understanding what that sex joke meant but laughing along so no one caught on. Heh heh, oh, I get it! … My Adolescent Self and my Adult Self have never been closer.

Facebook is not helping. On a normal day, dozens of names and faces from the past invade my computer screen. Some are welcome. There are many people from my high school days whom I would love to reconnect with. Then there are The Mean Girls. When I saw the fantastic Tina Fey film of the same name, I knew I wasn’t alone. We’ve all had our share of Mean Girls. You know who they are. They torment you for most of your high school days. Your memory of them is of scornful glances, fake smiles, or laughter as you move past, never really sure if the laughter is about you or some other poor soul in the hallway. Then graduation arrives and you eradicate all memory of them from your mind. Done and done. You made it through. Whew! Then 15 years later, they are requesting to “friend” me? This baffles me.

Now that I think about it, my Mean Girls were just miserable — miserable and mean. I never stopped to consider, “I wonder what’s making her that sad. Maybe I should befriend her …” High school is survival of the fittest, make no mistake about that. I just knew I wanted to stay away from that negative energy — long before I was using words like “negative energy.” I learned the stumbling spots along the path, and I emerged smarter and stronger. Thank goodness.

Now as a teacher, it’s easier to recognize the Mean Girls in my school. I want to warn the impressionable (nice) girl, “Don’t trust her! She wants something from you! Don’t let her in!” in the same way I want to warn her about the Predatory Boys. As an adult, you’re removed from the drama and it all plays out like a piece of theater before you. The characters, the conflict, the intentions of each character and how they will get what they want — these are all so obvious when you’re in the audience. Ah, yes, it makes perfect sense. You want to befriend her to get back at that other girl in advance, before she has the opportunity to hurt you! Of course!

Of course, I can’t warn her. I have a job to do and even a role to play in this drama. If she comes to me, I am to listen, nod my head and wisely advise her, based on what I see and somewhat on my own experiences. Like me, she will need to find her own way, fight her own battles and have her own embarrassing moments of being befriended and dropped. She will develop her own thick skin against her own Mean Girls. It may hurt but it won’t wound permanently. She, too, will emerge smarter and stronger. With a little luck, she won’t become someone else’s Mean Girl.

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