what am I going to do without a building full of teenagers next year?

Anytime I try to explain my job to a person who isn’t familiar with my school, or even boarding schools in general, I end up babbling like an idiot.

Me: “Well, it’s, um, I live in a dorm and I’m responsible for a bunch of teenagers who live at the school.”
Them: “So, you’re an RA.”
Me: “Well, yeah, but it’s full-time.”
Them: “But…what do you do?”
Me: “Well, I work most of my hours at a desk. But I check in with my kids, and, uh, plan programs for them, and design a bulletin board every quarter. And I make sure they make it back to the building on time, and you know, enforce policies and stuff.”
Them: “So, you’re an RA. For high schoolers.”

Over the past year and a half, I’ve had too many variations of that conversation to count. The truth is, this job is just hard to describe. After doing it for this long, I feel like I really do understand it and try hard to do it well, but it’s not the type of job that easily fits within a cookie cutter definition. It’s a job and a lifestyle, that’s for sure, and I’ve really settled into it by now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about where I’m going next. (It’s funny, now that I’m leaving here at the end of May, I almost feel like I’m graduating all over again. I constantly get the “what are you doing next year?” interrogation, and I feel just as lost as I did when I prepared to walk across the stage two years ago.) I have zero plans, tons of options (which I’ve already alluded to in previous blog posts), but lately I’ve been thinking just as much about the past year and a half at this job as I have about what I want to move onto next. And what I’ve come to realize is…I’m really going to miss these kids.

When I studied music education in college, I trained myself to think inside a classroom. I was learning to be a young professional, and I had clear, set goals. I was going to be a teacher. I was going to mold the young minds of artists, thinkers, singers, kids who were like me in high school, whose only release was the transcending power of music. I was going to be the person pulling the intertwining harmonies out of a choir, teaching my sopranos to transition into head voice, crying at the end of the final concert of the school year. I was going to be inspiring. I was going to change the world.

…I was naive.

Then, when I suddenly realized that teaching was no longer the path I wanted to take with my life and I accepted a position in residence life at a boarding school, everything kind of went to hell. I didn’t have this clear vision in my head, and all I had been working toward for my entire college career suddenly seemed obsolete. Sure, I would be surrounding myself with young artists, but I wouldn’t be the one helping them advance in their art. I was going to be their “mom,” the one asking them how school was at the end of the day, not the one teaching them about perfect authentic cadences and diction and through-composed song forms.

But I started this job. And I learned the ropes. And I met new friends, some with similar stories to me, others with very different ones. And I felt okay with my decision to uproot my life, move to Michigan, and live in a dorm again.  And I began to love this job. And I realized that I can still teach kids and have an impact on them without being in a classroom. And I treasured the relationships I was building with them. And I realized that living and working with kids outside the confines of a classroom was pretty great. And I learned more than I ever thought a job like this could teach me.

Sure, the job gets hard and frustrating and exhausting, and when I’m making my fifth hospital trip in about as many weeks, or mediating a roommate conflict at 11pm with a miserable cold, or stuck on campus with homesick kids for three extra days right before Christmas because a monstrous winter storm cancelled all the flights out of our tiny northern Michigan airport, I sometimes ask myself “WHY DID I SIGN UP FOR THIS?!” But it’s rewarding in a way that I never found teaching to be. I have real relationships with the kids who are under my care here. I am their support system, their authority figure, their listening ear. I ask them how their day was. I make sure their shower drain gets fixed. I call them out when they start shrieking and waking up the building at 12:30am. I hug them and make them tea when they’re nervous about an audition. I drive them to Target when they need to buy tampons. I am here for them. (Are you beginning to see why I have such a hard time describing my job concisely?)

The bottom line is, I care so deeply for My Girls. I call them My Girls, and while I know they don’t “belong” to me, that I am merely one person in a long line of mentors/big sisters/watchful adults they will have in their lives, I still think of them as My Girls. I use that phrase commonly in conversation, with people who understand my job and with people who don’t, and sometimes I consider changing the terminology to something more professional, but it just feels right. My Girls are My Girls. They are inspiring and hilarious and vulnerable and idealistic and honest and I love them. And I have probably learned more from them than they have from me.

I know that when I look back on this job later in my life, I won’t remember the discipline situations I had to deal with or the wacky sleep schedule the most vividly. I’ll remember the times I sat on my living room floor with My Girls, discussing the intricacies of dorm room cooking or hearing about their boy problems or debating which dwarf in The Hobbit was the hottest (totally Kili, by the way). I’ll remember tea parties and late night pudding and watching them get into college and seeing them grow up. I don’t just have 28 students, I have 28 daughters and 28 little sisters. And to be honest, the thought of leaving them in the spring is starting to kill me a little bit. I need to move on, my life needs to go in a different direction, but my heart wants to stay here, in this place that has taught me so much about what it means to be human, and with these people who love and give so much of themselves so freely. I don’t want to leave behind deep conversations at the front desk and delirious late-night gigglefests. I can’t believe I’ll have to say goodbye to them, and to all of this job that was my first out-of-college experience, my first professional plunge, my New Start. I owe so much of my now-self to this crazy decision I made, two months out of college. And I owe so much to these kids, who taught me to love others, to find balance in my life, to find something new I was good at that I enjoyed doing.

This job may not have given me a clear direction for the future, but it certainly gave me the knowledge and affirmation that something new and different can be more than worthwhile. This is probably the weirdest, most unique lifestyle I will ever have, and I’m so thankful to have gotten to live it.

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2 thoughts on “what am I going to do without a building full of teenagers next year?

  1. I love this so much. I wish in school they would/could prepare you for the confusion once you graduate. You’re trained to think that what you went to school for is exactly what you must do once you graduate, but slowly you learn that you can mold it in to something that makes you happy, and it might NOT be just what you expected and set up for yourself. Change is scary, and moving on is tough, but you are destined for big things and this is only the start of your journey. 🙂

  2. Pingback: how a cheap ukulele made me learn to love music again | musings by madeline

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