“OK, there’s your bell. Go enjoy your lunch! Your big test is this weekend; all of you have my phone number. If you need anything: help studying, a shot of confidence or even just a hug, you can contact me and I will do everything I can to help you. Have a good day and good luck with your test!”
With those words I dismissed my class, basking in the students’ warm farewells, and then turned to erase the board. I then pivoted to face what was supposed to be an empty classroom and noticed that Bailey was still sitting, head bowed. I went to her and asked her if she was OK. “Those people!” she murmured. “They have such passion! I…” and she dissolved into tears.
Bailey is twenty years old; a scrap of a girl with a traditionally Chinese bowl cut hairstyle, parted down the middle with the bangs pinned back by colorful barrettes. She has widely spaced eyes, an adorable button nose and rosebud lips, all framed by a smooth complexion. Smiling, Bailey is a beautiful girl who has yet to realize her woman’s potential. When she frowns, her face puckered and bordering on tears, she awakens an instinct to shelter her from harm.
She is the type of student every teacher hopes to have in class, at least once in their career. Full of grace, deeply intellectual and fervent, such students nurse a flicker of passion and seek a direction for their lives. Unlike Sasuke who burns with a destructive and selfish obsession, the Baileys of the world only want to realize their full potential by finding their destiny. My poor Bailey doesn’t know what direction to go in, but she knows that she will follow a different path from the other students.
One of “Those people” that she was referring to was Erin Gruwell (of the Freedom Writers’ movie), the teacher that turned her students away from gang life and on to educational and professional success. The members of the Dave Matthews Band were the other people. My intent in showing these contrasting examples of passion was to demonstrate to the class that people must overcome adversity to follow their dream. Ms. Gruwell, her students and Dave Matthews Band members certainly suffered their share of heartbreak and hardship on the way to finding their destiny!
Bailey picked up on the passion exhibited on the screen rather than on the concept of overcoming adversity. Or, she may have absorbed the idea of overcoming adversity as a matter of course. Undeniably she saw herself in these contrasting examples of those who, although very different, attained the same goal: finding their passion and achieving self-fulfillment.
I put my arm around this quivering girl and let her tears flow free for a few moments. When she felt she had enough control of herself, she told me why she was so moved. “I don’t know what direction I should take. I don’t know what to do! I just know that I have such passion and want to do good things…”
Very near tears myself, I hugged her close to me until I could regain control. I told her, gently, that it was OK for her to not know what direction to take right now. She is still a young girl with a lot of learning to do. She will try many things in her life on the way to discovering who she really is and that is OK. Some of the most interesting people in life don’t know what they want to do in their 20’s, 30’s or even their 40’s – and then it hits them like a hammer: THIS is where I need to be! THIS is what I’m supposed to be doing! It is OK to be different than everyone else. It makes for a hard life, but the reward of such a life is realizing your dream. That is worth waiting for, right? Until then she should nurse that flicker of passion inside. Never let it go out and never let it die for it will guide her to where she is supposed to be.
This approach is wildly different from the Chinese take on life. The Chinese believe that you do not forge your own way; it is chosen for you: by your test scores which assign your college major; by your family heritage or by whatever job you can scramble to get. That is not a traditional view; it only came about when Chairman Mao took over the country and allocated skills and people where they were most needed. Now, with the shadow of the last sixty years fading away, students have more opportunity than ever to choose which direction to take with their life. My telling Bailey that it is OK to make her own way in the world was stating the obvious, to be sure. But, it seems that is exactly the license she needed.
No longer disconsolate, she tentatively raised her head and essayed a smile. It was a weak, watery smile that pushed the last of her tears down her smooth cheeks. I wiped them away for her and held her a little longer, until she felt strong enough to pull away. A few minutes later, calm and composed, she was ready to face the world again. She thanked me and wished me a good weekend, gathered her books and left the room.
I walked away from class this morning knowing I had done my best not only as a teacher, but as a mentor and as a human being.
Bailey is going to be just fine. She will be better than fine. In fact, you should keep your eyes on the horizon because, in a few years, there will be a shining new star. Her name is Bailey.