Graduation is over. Underclassmen are taking exams and cleaning out lockers. The countdown on my chalkboard will soon be at zero. All of this means one thing: “The Simple Minds Effect” is in full swing.
In case you were wondering, yes, I did just make that up. Nonetheless, I am convinced it is a real affliction. All this pomp and circumstance, the call for reminiscence. Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” has been playing on a loop inside my head for a week. I’m about one chorus away from loading up a station wagon and moving to Shermer, Illinois. (That is, if Jason Mewes hadn’t already debunked its existence.)
Naturally, my connection with Shermer and Simple Minds is The Breakfast Club. That Hughes‘ classic was supposed to be the last movie covered in my film class, but we ran out of time. The kids are bummed they won’t be seeing it; I’m bummed because I won’t be the one to show it to them.
My fondness for The Breakfast Club goes back about seven years, when I was the age of my students. I was a sucker for all things witty and offbeat, anything that could distinguish me from my peers. (Strange I didn’t know the definition of “pretentious” then.) I took to The Breakfast Club like a lawn mower to grass. I lusted after Ally Sheedy’s grey tote and Molly Ringwald’s boots. I quoted the movie to friends until they broke down and asked to borrow my DVD.
Things change, things stay the same.
I still quote lines and covet wardrobes. I hold onto my DVD, quietly awaiting someone to borrow it. Yet, as my fanaticism has mellowed, my appreciation for the film has only grown stronger. I get it now. I get why Bender was so damn angsty, why Brian just wanted to shoot his defective elephant lamp, and why Allison showed up to detention on a whim. Their stories are built on common ground: the need for attention and reinforcement. They are too old to act like children, too young to be taken seriously. Thus, they are dismissed.
It’s this revelation that made my first (and probably only) year teaching high school so difficult. For starters, I was only 22 when I began. I felt like an older sister, not an authority figure. After listening to my coworkers talk about parenting, marriage, and employee benefits, I couldn’t help feeling a kinship with folks a little younger. Students talked to me about interesting YouTube videos; I told them about my cat. We exchanged goofy banter. Then, gradually, they shared more. I learned about their issues with school, their troublesome relationships. I heard about their raucous weekends and their resulting mistakes. I went from not knowing their names to knowing their lives. I hardly think this would have happened had I taken the Richard Vernon approach to education.
I maintain that I am not “Star Teacher” material. I suck at discipline, I hate taking grades, and I fail at keeping my potty mouth in check. Still, this year has been one of the most valuable of my life. I revisited high school and survived. I resisted using “the simplest terms and most convenient definitions” to categorize my students. In turn, they showed their vulnerability, uniqueness, and character. I cannot say if they learned from me, but I certainly learned from them. Even though I never watched The Breakfast Club with my class, I will think of them each time I see the opening credits.