Oh, Teenagers.

In recent weeks, I have read and heard a myriad of complaints about today’s high school kids. I am weary of the broad brush used to paint these individuals.

I’ve been teaching high school now for 17 years, and every year, I defend the kids I teach more and more. And while I readily admit there’s some kids that have tested every nerve, I have a news flash for you:

The adults in public education have made me want to quit way more often than the kids.

Teens are impetuous?

So are adults.

Teens are self-absorbed?

So are adults.

Teens are easily manipulated?

So are adults.

Teens are disrespectful?

So are adults.

Teens are reckless?

So are adults.

Come at me with all of your examples of teens who are just The Worst, and not only will I counter with teens who are just The Best, but I’ll also provide examples of adults exhibiting the same behavior you’re complaining about.

It is unacceptable to point to the younger generation of your choice as the source for societal problems. It is past time we start harnessing their passion, ingenuity, and skills to make the world better, instead of scrutinizing their methods as impractical, based on the sole reason of  “that’s not how we do things.”

Stop vilifying teens, start listening to them.

Stop ostracizing teens, start mentoring them.

Every day, teens impress me. Every day, teens surprise me. Every day, teens inspire me.

Allow for the possibility that they can do the same for you.



Thoughts on change.

As I drove to church this morning, I thought about humans’ capacity for change. I’ve often heard that people can’t change. You know, “A leopard can’t change its spots.” I googled that adage and check out the third autofill:

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What? The Bible? And lo and behold it’s right there in Jeremiah. Maybe I should’ve paid more attention the last time I read the Old Testament. Anyway,  I suppose I can’t fault those who believe people can’t change–it’s biblical.

Except that verb “can’t” is a sticking point for me. It would mean something entirely different if the phrase was that a leopard doesn’t change his spots. I think that’s what believers of that adage really mean: whatever experiences they’ve had in their lives has led them to the belief that people do not change.

And for some people, I suppose, that adage is true.

But this morning as I thought about change, I remembered that I’m coming up on the 20 year anniversary of the end of my church mission in Montreal, and it’s so obvious to me that people can and do change.

I came home from my mission mostly fluent in French, fully on fire for my church, and laser-focused on getting married. Twenty years later, my French fluency is gone, my relationship with my church is “complicated,” and I’ve reached a peace of sorts that I will never be married.

I’m more active and vocal in my political beliefs, and even as a teacher I’ve changed. I remember my first years in the classroom when I ran low on patience and mercy. Now, I continue to surprise myself when I respond to students who test my patience with a heaping of mercy.

My friend AJ teaches and directs the choirs across the hallway from my classroom. We both have opportunities to work with and reconnect with alumni, and occasionally he’ll name drop a kid that elicits an unkind-ish non-verbal response from me.

And he reminds me, “Isn’t it great that we aren’t the same people we were in high school?”

People can and do change. And I know you can probably give me the names of five people who can’t and don’t change, without even creating a new wrinkle in your brain. I get it.

But I wonder what our lives and relationships would be like if we allowed for the possibility that people can change. I think I might like what that world would be.

The Hearing.

“Did I remember to spell my name?” I leaned over to Stueve and whispered.

“No,” he said, and my eyes widened. “I’m kidding! Yes. You did.”

I still can’t remember spelling my name.

It’s odd what adrenaline does to the memory–I clearly remember rushing the phrase “to posit” and worrying that it sounded like “deposit,” but I can’t remember spelling my name.

For the first time in my life, I attended a committee hearing on bills presented to the judiciary committee of my state’s legislature to testify in support of a bill. I had little idea what to expect, since I cut short my political science studies to drop out of school for a year.

A story for another time.

I arrived at the capitol building well ahead of the hearing’s 1:30 p.m. start time, and I knew I was in for a long day since they moved our bill from third to last in the order. And had I paid closer attention to the other bills in that hearing, I might not have arrived so early: also on the docket was a resolution to put medical cannibis on the November ballot and let voters decide if it should be legal.

The cannibis resolution was fourth in line, and it ground the pacing of the day to a halt. Proponent after proponent shared their experience and reasoning as to why the people of Nebraska deserved to decide this issue, as opposed to relying on legislators to work out a bill. Then opponent after opponent (though they numbered far fewer) attempted to persuade the committee to not advance the resolution. And committee member after committee member asked question after question of most of the opponents.

Two hours later, the hearing on the resolution ended, and we took a 10 minute break. At this point, I’d been sitting in the room for three hours.

It took another hour to get through the next bill, which would place restrictions on citizens with juvenile records from purchasing firearms, and finally, at around 6 p.m., Senator Adam Morfeld read in LB 886.

Prior to Morfeld’s speech, the chair of the committee asked the crowd, “How many of you in the room plan to testify either for or against this bill?”

I saw over a dozen hands go up.

And I wondered if I should speak. I had written my comments–could they possibly be any different from what the other people would say? Maybe I could just save them and send as a letter if the bill made it to a floor vote. It was so late, and I was hungry, and Stueve had brought six kids to report on the hearing. Everyone in the room could go home three minutes earlier if I didn’t speak.

I turned to Stueve and said, “Maybe I shouldn’t speak.”

And I don’t remember his response, but it was akin to this:

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And then I remembered that I sat through two hours of testimony about cannibis and dammit, I was going to take my three minutes.

(Yes, the situation warranted a swear.)

So I moved to the front row and after several others testified in support of the bill, I added my voice to the many. I nearly ran out of time, because in all of my practice runs, I forgot to factor in that I would have to say and spell my name. Precious seconds, when limited to 180 total.

And I’m glad I testified. Not because I think anything I said was going to persuade the committee either way, but because if I’ve learned anything the past year, it’s that I can no longer be a passive recipient of the benefits of democracy. Instead, I need to be an active participant.

And whether it’s voting, making phone calls, writing letters, or showing up and testifying before a committee in support of or opposition to legislation, active participants are the people who will keep the democracy strong. And I don’t want to be left out of that hard work.

In another life, setting policy was the career goal. Spending six hours in a hearing room at times made me wistful for that road not taken. But in the past 24 hours, as I’ve seen multiple reasons why teaching has been the right road for me these past 17 years, I also realized there’s no reason why I can’t travel the policy road in the future.


Thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, 5-3, that high school student journalists should not be afforded the same First Amendment rights as professional journalists.

They decided this, despite the decision 20 years prior, that neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional right to free speech when stepping on school grounds. Instead, the Rehnquist court decided to splice up the First Amendment: Mary Beth and John Tinker had a right to free speech, because it was not sponsored by the school. The journalists at Hazelwood East High School did not have a right to free press because the school paid to print the paper.

That’s the watered-down version, of course, but you get the gist.

Thomas Jefferson said “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” What better place to train student journalists of this vital responsibility than in a school setting, with supports around them, so that should they choose journalism as a career, they have a strong foundation in ethical, solid journalism?

I’m probably being incendiary here, but I wonder what the current journalistic landscape would look like if 30 years of Hazelwood did not enable the censorship of  thousands of high school and college journalists (because yes, while Hazelwood’s intent was to stifle high school press, college administrators misuse it on their campuses to censor their journalists). Would we have journalists better trained in law and ethics? Would we have more journalists well-versed in reporting and fewer journalists well-versed in people-pleasing? Would we have journalists more interested in reporting news than moderating pundits? Would our news networks contain a little less public relations work and demand a little more accountability?

We’ll never know. But we might be able to turn the tide.

Currently several states have pending legislation that would restore full First Amendment protections to student journalists. One such bill, LB 886 in Nebraska, would protect high school and college journalists. The bill specifies that stories that are libelous, violate state or federal law, incite violence, disrupt the school day, or invade privacy of sources are not protected.

This bill is not a free-for-all for students to turn their newspapers and websites into mini-TMZs.

But it could allow students to report that a principal lied during the hiring process.  Kansas, by the way? They have a state law that protects high school journalists. That’s why those reporters could write this story.

LB 886 could also prevent the current PR nightmare Herriman High School is managing:

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Utah? No law there protecting student journalists. And now, the administrators have become the story. (I was a newspaper adviser in Utah for a year, and before my students even had a chance to publish one story, he told me, “The Supreme Court says I can censor anything you try to publish, so let’s make this a good experience for everyone.”)

When I think of the stories my students could write but don’t, for fear of censorship, it breaks my heart. And I’m lucky–I have a supportive administration that trusts me to do my job as an adviser. But I know my reporters self-censor all the time. To be honest, I probably point them in that direction sometimes, as much as it pains me.

Thirty years is too long. It’s time to cure Hazelwood. Our liberty depends on it.


I Love Public Schools.

Today is I Love Public Schools day, an initiative of the non-profit organization NELovesPS. This non-profit has spent the past several years traveling the state, telling the stories of Nebraska Public Schools at a most crucial time.

Nebraska’s current governor, Pete Ricketts, has made no secret about his desires to thwart public education–though he wouldn’t use the word “thwart,” he’d use the word “reform.” He advocates “alternative pay structures” for teachers (code for doing away with unions); he advocates for the proliferation of charter schools (his father funded one just down the road from where I teach); he advocates for voucher systems.

Then, just last week, a state senator introduced a bill that would give the governor control over the state Department of Education.

Not for nothing: Ricketts himself donated to that state senator’s campaign.

Here’s what I always find interesting: when pollsters ask Americans their opinions about public schools in the U.S., their satisfaction is dismal–Gallup’s most recent poll has that number at 47% general satisfaction. But if you break that down to local schools? That satisfaction number almost doubles, to 82%.

What does this tell us?

People, in general, like their local schools. So here’s some things I really like about Bellevue West High School, where I teach.

  • We have an admin team that supports student journalism and encourages us to grow.
  • We have a stellar fine arts program.
  • We have students every year who get into fantastic colleges.
  • Our alumni succeed in college–at both under- and post-graduate levels.
  • Our athletic teams are competitive.
  • We have several AP course offerings.
  • We have partnerships with UNMC, Metro, the Henry Doorly Zoo, and other local businesses that give students current, real world experiences.

There are really good things going on in public schools. And if you think there aren’t good things happening in your local schools, then do something about it. Volunteer. Run for school board. Go to Donors Choose and fund a project. Support NELovesPS.

Nebraska has always done a pretty good job of keeping educational boondoggles at bay, instead relying on local districts to make sure they are giving children a quality education–often with much fewer resources than other states.

There’s much to love about Nebraska Public Schools. If you can’t find anything to love about public schools yourself, go ask a teacher to educate you.