Why I Generally Like Teenagers
I was recently at Borders Bookstore enjoying one of
those teacher appreciation events. The clerk asked me what I taught, and
I explained that I was (again) a substitute teacher.
What grade? she asked.
She shuddered. I could never teach teenagers.
Ive gotten this response before. Its almost
like its bad enough to be a sub, let alone for adolescents.
I dont take offense; Ive had to explain myself hundreds of
times before, so I usually toss off some joke about liking adventure and
leave it at that. But sometimes people seem to want more of an explanation,
like, How can you like teenagers?
Thats sort of like asking, How can you like
adults? I do and I dont. Theyre all different. And so
are teenagers. I have learned from hard experience over the years not
to stereotype adolescents. Because just when you start to have preconceived
notions about them, they surprise you. Just when I start to feel irked
that they are self-absorbed and obsessed about nothing but hair, clothes,
boys/girls, or sports statistics (hmm
do we know any adults like
this?), they tell me that they collected cans of food on Halloween for
the food pantry in town, volunteered at their churches, mosques or temples,
or ran a charity race.
Just when I think some of them spend their lives in
front of the TV set (maybe like some adults), they tell me theyre
nuts about historical fiction or science fiction or theyve been
reading 500-page books since the 5th grade (and theyre not in TAG).
Just when I wonder if theyre really listening
in English class, one of the hardest-working but goofiest kids in class
makes a literary breakthrough I never thought of.
Well, you know, the mad dog in To Kill a
Mockingbird is like the dog in The Odyssey. They both
symbolize how their communities are. Like, the dogs are all messed up
and in bad shape. And so are Maycomb and Ithaca.
Where did that leap come from?
The other thing I like about teenagers is that theyre
smart alecks. This is precisely why some adults do not like teenagers.
Since I have a black belt in one-liners (from subbing and waitressing),
this works for me. I enjoy verbal repartee. Judiciously timed and not
overused, smart alecky-ness can add flavor to a classroom and even encourage
bonding between teacher and student. Of course, sometimes its just
creativity gone amok, like with a student named Robert.
I was subbing for a friend of mine. I gave the assignment
(a reading with questions), and a sophisticated looking student in the
front row asked, Is this all were doing all hour?
Yes, but you can do other homework if you get
done with that. He nodded.
With focused, calm deliberation, he went about the assignment
and finished it in a short amount of time. He was clearly in control of
his behavior, and he exhibited none of the stereotypical signs of nervousness
like physical tics or constant verbal banter to get attention. He was
not doing the usual leg gyrations or finger drumming of the terminally
restless. There was nothing to indicate that Robert had attention or control
difficulties of any sort. So, with the same calm deliberation with which
he had dispatched his assignment, he spoke to me with an air of confidentiality
and a gleam in his eyes.
You know, Ms. Reitzi
From the tone
in his voice, my instincts told me he was hatching something. Pause. I
have Turrets Syndrome
Meaningful pause. And every once
in awhile I get these outbursts
Clearly, Robert was winding up for one of the lamest
excuses for swearing in class, and being excused for it, that I ever heard.
It was not only lame but also inappropriate to impersonate persons with
a mental health condition. Nonetheless, it was creative. No one had ever
pulled this stunt on me in all my years of substitute teaching. This kid
was no amateur in social maneuvering.
Pause. Should you
feel the urge, feel free to excuse yourself, I countered. He smiled
slyly, acknowledging I recognized the joke.
The next time I saw Robert in the halls he addressed
me with that same whimsical but cool deliberation, You know, Ms.
Reitzi, I got that Turrets under control.
Glad to hear it, Robert.
Posted October 29, 2002