Many people cannot bear the thought of working with teenagers and when they hear that I am working in a secondary school they shudder and wonder how on earth I could do that – and then they are quick to assure me that they certainly couldn’t work with teenagers. EVER.
But for me, working with teenagers is the greatest part of the job.
That isn’t to say that working with teenagers doesn’t present a list of challenges: stereotypes exist for a reason and it’s true that teenagers can be difficult. Sometimes they will refuse to engage in a lesson that you’ve spent precious time planning and preparing for as they’d rather talk about their friendship issues than explore how Arthur Conan Doyle creates a sense of mystery in The Sign of Four; they’d rather put their head on the desk and have a little nap than think about the use of superlatives in King George VI’s speech and they’d definitely prefer to wander across the room and have a chat with their mate than have a discussion with the person they’ve been forced to sit next to about the effect of alliteration on the reader (“what’s alliteration Miss?”).
But teenagers are also open, generous and forgiving; often in a way that many adults are not. Teenagers are able to recognise when you are having a tough day and they’ll adapt to help you in a natural and unassuming way. They’ll forgive a quick loss of temper and they readily accept an apology if you forget to do something for them. They can often do this without question; a skill that many adults have forgotten.
Teenagers are capable of far more than we give them credit for. We often ignore their pleas for more independence, assuming they aren’t ready. And sometimes they aren’t ready, but how can they develop that independence if they aren’t given the chance? How do they become well-rounded individuals if we constantly tell them they aren’t allowed to do that, to try this, to say that or be like that? But sometimes they are ready: students at Notley High School had to deal with the unexpected and deeply tragic death of a friend and peer in year 7. The students responded to Emilia’s death with respect, maturity and grace; they supported each other and came up with fundraising ideas to honour her life and her contribution to the community.
Teenagers are often expected to behave better than adults too. They aren’t always allowed to defend themselves because this is seen as talking back and being rude. But as an adult I expect to be allowed to justify my actions and my behaviour, because how can anyone understand my choices if they don’t know the reasons behind them? We don’t always give teenagers that same respect.
I feel blessed to work with teenagers. It is a privilege to be a part of their lives; to spend time with them whilst they are figuring who they are and what is important to them. I won’t pretend it’s always easy because to be honest, it’s rarely easy. But I will say I’m lucky.