Thursday, 19 June 2014

Trite but true: teenagers are ace.

It's the worst time to write this blog. I'm frantically trying to create a new timetable, a new engaging KS3 curriculum, a new accessible route through the ever-demanding and increasingly ludicrous demands of GCSE specifications, whilst choosing a new A Level spec., recruiting a new Deputy and Key Stage Coordinator - oh, and planning a wedding in four weeks time.

But, somehow, that all just makes it more necessary.

I think it was when an incredibly frustrated Year 10 student had just taken out his emotions on my quivering plastic display case in the corridor outside my classroom that this blog post finally came into being.

Having flourished since September - moving from a copied couple of lines to a full page of his own ideas - being faced with his first taste of a GCSE exam paper had landed him right back at square one. He was unable to put pen to paper; quite simply, he felt like a failure. Despite my concern for both my rather lovely display, cataloguing the last year of English trips, and his own, now bruised, fist all I could feel for him was pride: 1. that he cared that much; 2. at the realisation that he absolutely could do that exam and that I was going to do everything in my power to convince him of that over the next year.

Because, you see, teenagers are ace.

Unlike most adults, their emotions are plain to see. Happy. Sad. Frustrated. Proud. Grateful. Lonely. Reading a classroom is a pleasurable skill for an experienced teacher, spotting who is about to metaphorically (or literally in this particular case) 'hit the wall' and bringing them back from the brink. Grabbing good work and whacking it under a visualiser and then spotting the side-smile of pride from the recipient of class jealousy and praise. It might be given the jazzy title of 'emotional intelligence', but I don't think it's the teacher's intelligence that should be the focus.

You see, for me, it's simply that teenagers are ace.

Before I put finger to key for this blog, I tweeted about whether I should write it. I'm very aware that the title alone could be perceived as somewhat nauseating. And I'm sure repeating it has brought up a vom-bubble or two for some. As a result, I had a couple of alternative blog suggestions from the Twitterati, one of which was: 'Are teenagers a product of their environment or creators of their reality?' My response was simply: both. Which leads me to my next reason that... well, you get the idea.

Teenagers are sponges; young people soak up praise and the ideas and attitudes of those around them. As my brilliant first school had on the toilet wall: 'Teachers create the weather...' Every lesson is a fresh start, be it in terms of behaviour/relationships or learning, if only we can convince ourselves of it, greeting that child with a chirpy 'Hello' or tackling again that problem topic (presentational devices for me!).

Maybe teachers should be a bit more like sponges too. And I don't mean that we should all start saying 'LOL' or 'YOLO' (although anyone who works in a school will inform you that it's a media-mythology that they go around spurting that tosh) or stretching out our ear piercings (again, ahem).

I mean that we should be open to learning from our students. I'm sure it's not the complete reserve of the English teacher to nick an idea from one class and pass it off as to another as their own unique insight. Maybe we should also listen to them about the changing experiences of being a young person in 2014 too. I'm pretty sure I didn't know my sub-level in Year 8 or start my GCSE course in Year 9. God help me if I'd been asked to study Maths until 18...

And when we are learning from them, we will definitely be taught, once more, that teenagers are ace. Because, despite the challenges they face, they still make cheeky jokes about my name, do amazing pieces of homework and show kindness, passion and excitement in our schools.

And that's what'll be getting me through the timetable, new NC, specs, Gove's many whims - and be at the centre of every blinking decision I make.

The final words belong to the Lead HMI for English who has said recently the key question in judging provision should be: 'What is it like to be a student in this class?' And what I think she meant was: 'Teenagers are ace. Are they made to feel - and be - ace in this class?'