One of the duties of middle and high school teachers is to serve as chaperones at dances. It can be a somewhat onerous job because it involves a great deal of policing. It begins at the door when eagle eyed adults scan the kids for improper clothing or other infractions of the stated rules for attendance. It continues for those unlucky enough to be assigned to walk through the hallways of the school and the outside grounds for the duration of the dance. The purpose of this duty is to find stray students attempting to make out, smoke, or even ingest drugs or alcohol. While it is actually rare to find anyone daring enough to try such things on a school campus, when it does happen a delicate and time consuming investigation ensues. Finally, there is the job of walking around the dance floor to be certain that no inappropriate groping, or gyrating takes place.
Most of students at such functions are wonderful and with a bit of luck the evening can be quite fun. Even when the dancing becomes a bit inappropriate a gentle reminder or a stink-eyed look from one of the teachers usually calms down those teen-age hormones. Once in a great while there is a bit of sassiness which I always combated by reminding the offenders that a good metric for knowing how to behave is to consider whether or not they would do the offensive behavior in front of their grandmothers. That mostly elicited good laughs and willingness to comply with the rules for the event.
I often had great fun at those occasions. I liked joining in with the line dances that were usually led by one of the students. Once in a great while one of the boys would ask me to take a spin around the floor with him and even though I felt a bit uncomfortable it was always in good fun. Mostly I enjoyed seeing the students all dressed up in their finery and being so much more relaxed than they ever were in class. They were generally joyful occasions, but once in awhile they descended into emotion ridden disasters.
I vividly recall a lovely young student arriving in the early moments of one of those dances. She looked absolutely beautiful. It was apparent that she had made a great deal of effort to look her very best. I knew that she was nervously waiting for a particular young man to arrive. They had been a bit of a pair around campus for several weeks and all of us who taught them thought they were precious together. Both of them were very bright, well behaved and sweet. I knew that the young man for whom the girl was waiting would be delighted when he saw how lovely she looked on that night.
Not long afterward the boy did arrive shocking us all. He had brought a date, a student from another school who seemed somewhat incongruous with him. She appeared to be older and more worldly than he was. She had an unpolished toughness about the way she was dressed and the tone of her voice. He appeared totally smitten with her and did not even acknowledge the young lady who had been so excited about meeting up with him at the dance. As he walked right past her as though she was invisible, she almost collapsed into a convulsion of tears. Several teachers and her many friends surrounded her with comforting hugs and comments, but she was beside herself. Meanwhile the young man and his date became the focus of everyone’s interest.
I felt so incredibly sad about the situation, but I knew that such things were simply part of the angst of the teen years. I wanted to do something or say something, but I knew that I needed to leave it alone. My heart broke for the girl who had been so humiliated. She was and always would be so sweet and kind. Her situation felt so brutally wrong. Meanwhile the boy seemed to be a hit with his peers as his date performed her dance moves that had to be corrected by the chaperones more than once. It felt as though he was being purposely cruel which stunned me because he had seemed as naive and innocent as the girl he had stood up.
Things eventually worked out for everyone. The girl got over her sadness and the boy reverted back to the gentlemanly and compassionate behavior that had once been his trademark. They both moved on, went to college and created lovely lives for themselves. I suppose that the ugly event may have affected me more than it did either of them. I’d like to think that it was all just the result of immaturity and inexperience. I suppose we all had moments in our past that were as painful as pulling a scab from a wound. I doubt that many of us would ever want to go back to the awkward time of our adolescent and teen years when we made horrendous blunders in the way we treated others, especially those of the opposite sex.
Chaperoning those dances and watching the young people so awkwardly attempting to slide into adult roles gave me a whole new perspective about growing up. I saw that even the very best and seemingly most mature of those kids created horrible debacles in their relationships. As I witnessed those things I found myself silently forgiving myself and anyone else who had really mucked things up when we were young. I understood how difficult the transition into becoming an adult really is for each of us.
Hopefully we learn from all of those horrible lessons that make us cry or appear to be heartless fools. We gain perspective about ourselves and those around us. We find the true meaning of love and respect. Too bad that wisdom often only comes after we have been hurt. Even worse is when we just keep repeating the same mistakes. I’m glad my two students found their way to making wise choices. It’s good to know that they got past the hard knocks and are now okay.