One of my favorite movies is Teachers with Nick Nolte, Ralph Macchio, a teeny tiny Laura Dern, JoBeth Williams…ah, anyway, a bunch of good actors. It has one of my favorite set of movie lines ever and is the topic of this evening’s post. Ralph Macchio’s character has set off the school fire alarm, and the entire high school empties out into the parking lot, thrilled to be out of class, smoking in the parking lot, etc. Nolte, a teacher, has this exchange with Judd Hirsch, a vice principal (paraphrased):
HIRSCH: Alex, half those kids won’t come back after the fire alarm.
NOLTE: But half will. I think they’re worth it.
They are. They’re all worth it. Lookit, trust me, there’s a whole lot of teachers and other grown-uppy types out there who were probably certain where my future was, and it sure as hell wasn’t where I ended up (thank God). I wouldn’t say I was a bad kid, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. What I do know is this: A small but dedicated group of those grown-uppy types didn’t give up on me. They were hard sometimes, they lost patience with me, yes, and some of ’em I went out of my way to make miserable. (Apologies for that, if any of you are out there.)
But when all was said and done, they said, in effect, “He’s worth it.” They didn’t have to. They chose to. And in about six weeks, my first novel is going to be on the shelves as a result. I was one of the half that came back. So were most of my friends. Where might we be if not for those teachers and leaders who didn’t let us give up on ourselves? (Not blogging on my author website, for one…)
I can’t take back a lot of the evil, vile crap I did to some of my teachers over the years. But I can and I will do my best to pick up where they left off. Fact is, a pretty large percentage of teens only needs one thing: for one adult to stand up, to fight for them, to be there. Yeah, they’re gonna mess up, make mistakes, pull fire alarms. That’s what teenagers do. (And I get to write books about it!) They also care tremendously – about a lot of different things. They have the time and energy to devote to change things that a lot of us grown-uppy types don’t. Or won’t.
This applies equally to adults and teens: Don’t let anyone ever, ever tell you can’t do something, and don’t ever give up on going after what you want. Make choices today, even small ones, that will bring you closer to your goals. Because half the people you know today aren’t coming back after the alarm. But half will. The only question is, which group do you belong to?
I think you’re worth it.