Friday, August 6, 2010

Dangerous Minds

My life is a movie. It's called Dangerous Minds.

Ok... so, in my dreams am I as beautiful as Michelle Pfieffer, or as creative and awesome as Louanne, her character in the film. But you get the idea. Unless you haven't seen the movie (which you should.) In which case I offer: The Freedom Writers. Take The Lead. Stand And Deliver. Mean Girls. Oh wait, that last one slipped in there, it doesn't belong. I'm talking about movies where inner city kids learn a valuable lesson from an adult in their lives, and that adult learns something from them in return.

I rarely write about my job, because I have a confidentiality contract with the kids I work with, (as a residential counselor at a group home) and the line between sharing about my life and sharing too much about theirs can be blurry. But, I believe I have the right to free speech, and as long as I'm not sharing specific details or identifying facts about my clients, I should be safe.

As you know, through your keen observations skills, I live in a small town. But every day, I drive over the hill to a city. It's no metropolis, but it's a city for sure. I work with teenage girls who grew up in that city. Some days I look at them in the rearview mirror of the van I drive them around in, see their hair piled high on their heads, their penciled in eyebrows and lips, the tattoos that no one stopped them from getting even though they're underage, and it's just another small reminder of how different their world is from mine.

They grew up surrounded by poverty, crime, and gang violence. It's what they know. They've seen it all, and they are tough. On the outside anyway. Getting through the tough exterior and breaking down the walls they've built to protect themselves is the most difficult and most rewarding part of my job.

It's the part of the movie where the toughest kid in the class breaks down in tears. The scene where the class clown, who's always telling jokes to mask his insecurity, opens up about the past. It's the end of the movie, when the kids acknowledge that their teacher/coach/mentor/counselor has actually helped them, and then they go on to have successful lives.

My movie doesn't always end like that. The story just as often ends in tragedy... I find out after graduating our program, the girl has gotten back into drugs and ended up incarcerated. Or there is an anticlimactic turn of events... I show up to work and one of the girls is just gone. A runaway. Or the kids just move on and the story ends in mystery.

But the moments, and sometimes days, when I'm sure that I've affected these girls in a positive way, or that the program has changed them for the better... The days when they open up to me, cry on my shoulder, ask for a hug... Or when I pick them up from school and they can't wait to tell me some good news - about their friends, their grades, anything. The moments when I catch glimpses of the childhoods they missed. Those are the days that keep me going. That's when I believe in happy endings.

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Miel Abeille said...

I have been wondering about your life outside of blogland! Your girls are so lucky to have you guide them!

When is the Haiti trip? I've been wondering about that, too.

melaina said...

i can only imagine how hard the work you do is, yet i know that it is making a difference. Thanks for the glimpse into your world.

PaperFlora2 said...

they are lucky to have you and you are lucky to have them too

Andrea said...

I taught in the inner city of East Los Angeles for six years before I had kids of my own. Although my students were my kids as well.
So I am familiar with what you mean. Helping these kids can be so hard but they are sometimes taking in more than you realize. I still hear from some of them through facebook.And am happy to know one is going to USC this Fall, and another that I worried so much about in foster care is going to BYU.
ps Stand and Deliver was filmed on our campus in a few scenes.

Colleen said...

Melissa - I know, I should write more about certain aspects of my life. One of the many things I'll be working on in my blogging. :) I leave for Haiti this Friday!!

Melaina - thank you for the encouraging words.

PaperFlora - You're right, I am lucky to have them. They teach me a lot. :)

Andrea - wow, that sounds tough. I'm so glad to hear that you've seen some big successes, that's very encouraging. I have do high hopes for my girls, I just wish they all had as much hope for themselves.

Miel Abeille said...

I can't wait to read your post-Haiti blog! That is going to be such an amazing experience!

Paige said...

What a great post for me to read today! I work at a school where there are some prominent families. My friends think it is an easy job because these kids "have-it-all!" Truth is, they have material things but not always the support, encouragement and emotional support they need to succeed! I love your last paragraph - I feel the same way, just in different circumstances. Keep up the good work! You are impacting our future generation in the most positive way! : )

Robin's Scrap Nest said...

Hi Colleen Thanks so very much for the offer of help with my blog!!! Some days I really feel my age in this techical world...what a wonderful challenging job you have and you will be blessed for do make a difference and maybe you will not "see" the outcome you do plant a seed in those children. I work in a middle size hospital in a smaller town and I see some of the things that trouble this world but I try to bring hope. The other day I had a lady come up to me and say do you remember me of course I drew a blank and she said seven years ago you gave me something from the gift shoppe when my son was very ill and I still have it. I saw you and wanted to let you know I appreciated it..keep on going

Ronnica said...

My roommate LOVES those movies, probably because she wants to be the subject of one someday. She teaches high school English primarily to ESL students and those who have failed multiple times. She makes a difference in their lives...but also see those who continue to make the wrong choices. I hope to be a teacher like her some day.

Carolyn Ward said...

Thanks for doing what you do.