Never Underestimate the Resilience of a Teenager

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Image: Little Britain, BBC

Teenagers get a bad rep. Daily media reports are littered with stories of stealing, assaults, stabbings, underage pregnancy, a genuine lack of respect for the rest of human society and their intimidating presence when hanging on street corners in groups, smoking, drinking and being raucous has earned them the title of ‘chavs’ here in the UK. Parodies of these are immensely popular in comedy sketch shows such as ‘Vicki Pollard’ in Little Britain and ‘Lauren’ in The Catherine Tate Show.

After nearly ten years of working with teenagers, these reports annoy me. Of course, there are bad eggs in every element of society, but I have been privileged to work with thousands of wonderful young people who are fantastic role models with supportive families and I genuinely enjoy witnessing their development during their education. They work hard, offer intelligent conversation, have ambition and make me laugh. I’m proud of them. Despite the demands and the pressures of teaching, it’s an extremely rewarding aspect of the profession.

However, there are some students who aren’t as lucky. There was one particular student who stood out for me today, to the point where I felt a little emotional. To protect his identity, I’m going to call him X.

X is an older student and in his short lifetime he has experienced more than most, with very little family support and guidance. Obviously, I have to refrain from giving details, but after hearing his story when I first began teaching him I was left with a feeling of anger at the way he has been treated. I shouldn’t be judgemental – I don’t have children of my own and therefore couldn’t possibly understand how difficult it is, but in my career I have witnessed several examples of parents that simply shouldn’t have been allowed to reproduce.

X has such parents. Lots of children in his situation would act out. Lots would have an anger management problems, get into the wrong crowd, start to get into trouble with the law and essentially would give up. Not X. X arrives on time, has a good attendance record, is polite, respectful, hard-working and friendly. While he struggles with some of his work, he tries really hard and genuinely wants to do well. He turns up, on his own, to parents evenings. He participates in lots of extra-curricular activities. He associates with lovely friends and has a brilliant relationship with his teachers. He’s one of the most resilient teenagers I have ever met.

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Image: brightside

Today the students were in the process of finalising some of the last pieces of their coursework for a project they have been working on all term. They’re all excited about the impending holidays and have spent a lot of time discussing what they expect to receive for Christmas. Their work is certainly not a priority. X looked tired and I asked him if he was ok. His response?

“I’m fine, just tired. I was up late last night doing my coursework because I want to get a good grade. If I email this work to you, can you let me know what I need to do to improve before Christmas so I can do the work over the holidays and get above my target grade.”

If I was allowed to hug him, I would have done. What an amazing kid.