School has ended for the year. (*Whew*)
It was a great year. Moments were long. Months were short. At the end of every year, I have a tradition (all three years of my professional teaching life – I’m such a hack) of giving a “What Every Boy Needs To Know about Being a Man” speech.
As an English teacher, I have the privilege of teaching about Feminist Literary Theory. Every kid who comes through my classes can tell you that means looking at gender in stories, poetry, plays, and novels and asking “What does the gender of the character have to do with the outcome? With the attitudes of others? With the tone?” Therefore, every kid who heard my “What Every Boy Needs to Know about Being a Man” speech knew that Boy and Man are non-gender-specific. It’s just a great title (which I stole from Secondhand Lions).
Here is the short version of the speech:
Wilhite’s “What Every Boy Needs to Know about Being a Man” Speech, Version 2016
- You will not regret the actions that are prompted by kindness.
- We teach people how to treat us.
- The proper response to a compliment is eye contact and “thank you.”
- Everyone is going through something.
- Your stories matter.
- You have unlimited capacity for excellence.
Those who wanted to took home the preceding notes of the short version. The long version explained the short version. Such as, #1 — you may very well regret the consequences of all kinds of things, but the action? The kindness-based Thing you did? You shouldn’t have reason to regret the Thing.
And #2 — when you smile or growl, respond, react, or stand up for yourself, you’re teaching others how to behave toward you. I’m not always comfortable with that. Some people that I know treat me without any semblance of respect. But I recognize that I allow that to happen. There’s a lot of power in that understanding.
#3 went on for a while (surprise!), talking about how eye contact is a magnet for connection, and how when we “nahhh” at a compliment, we’re really saying, “you’re wrong,” and nobody every really wants to hear that.
#4 is mysterious and surprising to a whole lot of high school students, but once their eyes are open to the possibility that it’s true, they get a bit more empathetic.
5 is big in my creative writing classes, but also in my English classes — and for everyone. Tell your story. Speak your words.
The last one is a thing I’ve been working on a lot — developing and nurturing growth mindsets. It’s cool. And hard. But I can do things that are hard. (See? I’m already doing it.) Something I say at school (kind of a lot) is “I believe you can succeed in whatever you’re willing to work really hard for.” It’s interesting that some kids “succeed” in school without trying very hard, while others stretch and work and push to be moderate students. I want to redefine success for these “others” — to celebrate the B that came after serious revision and thought and fingers-to-keyboard time.
One of my students asked permission to post my list (made cute by her skills) on Pinterest. I smiled and said of course. I didn’t mention that I will never, ever see it there. I’m afraid of Pinterest. It has a tendency to allow me to feel bad about myself. So I stay away. Instead, I surround myself with happy-making things like delicious foods and good books and nice people and the sun and long walks up tall mountains.
And now the summer happens. Busy or lazy, full or quiet, hands on keyboards or turning pages of someone else’s books… I’m happy today.