Why I Like Teenagers
I have now been teaching High School English for 27 years and I still get the same reaction when I tell people what I do for a living:
“Wow, you got your work cut out for you!”
“Better you than me!”
“Guess you got your hands full!”
Well, I do have my hands full actually, but I am sure that the comment was referring to the difficulty of working with adolescents who are all stigmatized by society’s view of them. You know the stereotype: the brooding, tattooed, pierced, leather entrenched, long haired, sullen teen with angry eyes and one foot in your classroom and the other in Juvy.
And though I cannot deny the existence of that “type,” this is not the teenager I know. People seem to look at my career choice with a morbid fascination because they think this is the norm, but it isn’t. Why do I teach teenagers?
Well, I have to say it began as a love of literature and writing. I gravitated toward education because there aren’t many career choices that involve William Faulkner’s short stories and Maya Angelou’s poetry. So, maybe I wasn’t drawn to teaching for solely humanitarian reasons, but that doesn’t change the fact that I like teenagers. I like their flaws and their mistakes and their joys and their senses of humor. Most of all, I like their becoming.
Because that is what they are doing. They are trying to figure out the person they want to be and I don’t know if you remember being that age, when the world lay open for you like a TV remote with 542 channels to choose from, but it is a time of both excitement and fear. Teens today have so many more choices, and though that has its advantages, it also can be paralyzing. I remember being a senior and trying to decide which college I would attend. It still stands out as the most stressful time of my life. It was the first time I had to make a decision of that magnitude and I was overwhelmed by the options.
They are really in a state of becoming and it is as endearing to me as a toddler learning to walk is to some people. They are on the verge.
It’s exciting to me to see what they will become and to feel that – in some small way- I had an influence on their lives.
Sometimes I question things, such as when they act surprised that they need a writing utensil for class today. Or when they come begging for a chance to submit an assignment due 5 weeks ago. Or when they are twitter when I am trying to tell them about Third Person Limited Point of View. Or when they can remember the lyrics to 50 plus songs in their entirety but can’t remember that we underline the titles of novels. But there are other times…
Like this past Saturday when almost sixty students gave up their Saturday to come in for a special session on AP Literature. Several of them had to balance obligations to march in the Holiday Parade or volleyball practice or work. But they were there. They consumed an impressive amount of pizza and donuts along with some strategies for dealing with difficult literature. They are good kids, just trying to become good adults. When we were in the planning stages, people said they would never come. But they did.
And when the guest instructor told me how impressed she was with our students, I felt like a proud Mama Bear. They weren’t perfect, but they were good examples of how most teenagers behave. They are just like everyone else; they just want to matter and to feel they are of value.
I smile when I think of the mistakes of youth. Someday they will look back on the things they did and wonder what they were thinking. But you and I know they weren’t thinking at all.
Another one of their aggravating, but kind of amusing traits.
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Just one more thing they will need to learn….