“Just don’t be creepy.” Excellent advice from my young friend Sydney, the summer of 2014 just before we both started high school. She would be entering as a freshman in Iowa, and I would be starting a new career path as a guidance and college counseling director in Massachusetts. Creepy. Not an adjective that I had ever considered as a self-descriptor. I could not recall a single scenario in which another person referred to me as creepy. But I became concerned and have tried very hard to be as un-creepy as possible as I walk the halls of Manchester Essex Regional High School, interacting with students outside the setting of my office. My understanding of the way teenagers interpret “creepy” is when an adult enters their “circle” or breaks some secret boundary code. Have I been successful? I am not sure. But as I head into the second half of my third year on the job, I am reflecting on a few snapshots that may determine my overall creepiness . . .
Was it creepy that I stopped by the school’s newspaper on a Monday night during the layout process? Bad example. I love the newspaper and I feel like they tolerate me more than other student groups.
What about choosing to sit at a café table in the hallway just outside my office – mostly in the morning when students are heading to their first class. I sip an iced coffee and write my to-do list for the day and/or week. Nobody stops to talk. I must be creepy. Or, more likely than not, it might be considered creepy by one’s peers if he or she sat down to talk with me. Hmmm . . .
High school students are funny. They fascinate me. How can one individual be so engaged and laser-focused in a college planning conversation in the morning, and then visibly and physically contorting herself in the main stairwell to avoid eye contact with me in the afternoon? What makes me so creepy outside of my office?
I won’t even discuss the dining hall during junior/senior lunch. Imagine entering a forbidden kingdom where bottle flippers rule and stare down strangers who enter their territory uninvited. But I’ve accepted my creepiness, so it doesn’t really bother me. I enjoy walking up to tables, especially senior boys, and watching them squirm as I make a ridiculous comment such as “Have a great weekend,” or “Good luck against Rockport on Saturday.” So creepy.
When I left my post at Colgate University to begin a new chapter in secondary education, the reactions of my friends and colleagues were mixed into a spicy stew of “Are you nuts?” with a dash of “But you’re a dean here,” and a splash of “I admire your courage,” with a little bit of “Please. Take me with you!” Now that the dust has settled, the main topic of our conversation has shifted to my view on the differences between college and high school students. Basically, regular contact with an adult who shows an interest in them is embraced by most college students, and is one of the most significant factors in persistence, completion, and overall satisfaction in college. Why so creepy in a public high school? It’s probably because high school students have to be there. They need to be in school and must follow a strict curriculum of requirements. College students have a ton of choices and have made an informed decision to pursue higher education on their own terms. And they’re not confined inside one building for seven hours.
Will I change my tune? Can I possibly become less creepy while performing my job as a high school director of guidance and college counseling? Probably not. So get used to it kids. I care a tremendous amount about your education, your individual goals and aspirations, your personal growth and development, and definitely your overall happiness. Sorry, Sydney. I am totally creepy!