Week by week, students trickle out of Jamie Handling’s room with a smile on their faces. It’s Friday; the weekend is coming, but that’s not the reason their spirits have been lifted. Her students leave her English classroom with her advice bounding through their heads – on school, on mental health, on life.
Handling’s Friday Talks aren’t meant to inspire or encourage the applause they receive.
“I just want them to have a good memory going into whatever it is they’re facing,” Handling said.
Near the beginning of her teaching career, 17 years ago, Handling worked in a small-town community. She bore witness to the pain of losing family after one of her coworkers passed away. Then she repeated that process all over again when she witnessed the decline and death of her co-worker’s son, all within a nine-month period.
“I went to two funerals in one pregnancy,” Handling said.
In an effort to remind her students that there is always someone waiting for them and thinking about them, she began imparting a variety of life lessons through her words. Now, Handling has been helping teenagers stay safe through her talks for about 20 years.
“It’s just a reminder to take care of yourself and that your responsibility is to make yourself happy, because nobody can make you happy other than yourself,” Handling said
Her talks didn’t develop an official name until last year, when students personally asked her to begin recording her advice. At that point, the talks had evolved into a weekly tradition – one that students were loathe to miss.
“I didn’t realize that it was a big deal,” Handling said.
But her students felt otherwise. Mai Nguyen finds that staying in the moment is easier after one of Handling’s talks.
“They kind of remind you not to waste your high school years, because you only go through high school once,” Nguyen said.
As an acknowledgment of their importance to her classes, Handling took the request to heart and began recording an abbreviated version of her talks and uploading them to a blog dedicated to the subject.
The first few times were uncomfortable. Handling was too aware of her own appearance and the way she might look to others, but time and experience relaxed her concerns.
Her students’ request taught her to worry less about her image. Now, Handling dedicates her time to considering the type of content she wants to show in each recording.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the message,” Handling said.
Another student of Handling’s, Thomas Plaskett, believes Handling has perfected her talks. Plaskett enjoys the novelty of hearing her speak on various topics.
“Handling gives a talk about inspiration or something she can give us to go throughout the weekend and about our life – whether it’s cleaning out bad people in your life or have a little Handling on your shoulder saying what would she do and what would be the right choice,” Plaskett said
Plaskett admires how Handling skillfully changes the topic of each talk on a weekly basis, addressing a plethora of issues students might face, before making them intertwine into the weekend and into the personal lives of her students.
“The talks are enlightening,” Plaskett said. “It’s something I look forward to each and every Friday.”