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Auf Wiedersehen Neue Stadtschulen

I’m wrapping up my last week at Neue Stadtschulen (the school I’ve been interning at in Switzerland). As soon as they’re dismissed this afternoon, they’ll start fine tuning their two weeks of spring break plans and I’ll be walking down the Stairway to Heaven one last time.

I’m currently sitting in my “office” (the corner of the auditorium that I set up shop in) staring down at these twenty one teenagers that I have spent nine weeks getting to know one-on-one. Before I get all misty eyed and sentimental, I need to explain exactly how personal my time with them has been…

This school has exactly twenty one students between the sixth and tenth grade. Every Monday morning, twenty of them sign up to sit in a room and talk to me for thirty minutes twice a week. So I’ve spent, no exaggeration, hours upon hours with each of these kids just talking to them about their lives, their interests, their pet peeves, their boy/girlfriend of the week, why they’re mad at their mom today, what they bought in town this weekend, anything.

I won’t lie, it took them a while to open up to me, but when they did it was like I accidentally unlocked the floodgates of preteen melodrama, and continued fascination on my part, into my tiny office space thirty times a week. It was the coolest thing. Now I’m headed home and, with the risk of sounding melodramatic myself, I probably won’t see these kids ever again.

My dream, as any other teacher, is to be an educator that makes an impact. I so badly want for at least one student to remember me and think that I, or something I said or did, positively changed them and the way they think. I’ve realized in my time here though, that that’s not actually the number one thing I want (it comes in a dang close second place though). The kids here have taught me things and I have experienced them living and that is what I want most.

As a teacher, we get these short glimpses into hundreds of kids lives. It’s kind of like time travelling; we get to see them when they’re young and stupid and growing and maturing. We get peeks of what they’ll be like when they’re older and succeeding all over the place and it’s utterly phenomenal. It’s a gift to get to experience so many lives iside our own little life.

I got to watch my student Joya be the sarcastic big sister that, when it comes down to it, really truly cares about the people around her. I got to watch Keenan fit effortlessly, and almost invisibly, into a leadership role every day. I saw the pure curiosity and joy of learning that all but seeps out of Sabrina, Juliette, and Sinem. I was in awe of Philipp as this silent wealth of knowledge that you get so frustrated with because he won’t just talk to you and then all of a sudden out comes intelligence that could give Hawking a run for his money strung together in a way Shakespeare couldn’t compete with.

All I wanted the whole time I was here to experience them and their lives. Through that comes that second thing I so badly want: to empower them in their uniqueness and these roles and, if I get time, teach them a little bit about English. I want five seconds of their life line to selfishly relish for myself and to reassure them that someone see’s them, someone hears them, and someone wants to help them be the best version of themselves that they can be.

So as I almost break the coffee machine in the cafeteria for the billionth time and straighten all the auditorium chairs for the last time, I realize how badly I need to believe that all of our lives are intertwined. I need to believe that the blip that I am on these students timeline will change them somehow because the blip that they are on my timeline has changed me immeasurably. I need to be reassured that being the only one to greet the train conductor back when he calls “Guten tag” to all of us passengers every day will in fact make me look like an idiot and make him feel heard and appreciated.

When it comes down to it, we’re getting to play a role in every person’s Broadway Life Story even if it’s just for a minute. But don’t we want to be remembered as the teacher that made a difference, the nice kid on the train, the guy that let you cross the street with a line of honking cars behind him? If you think of  yourself as a supporting or even an extra in everone’s life, then don’t be the impatient driver or the cynical coworker or the rude customer. Be the random stranger that changed the protagonist’s life with one act of kindness.

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