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The Trouble with Teens: The Challenges for a Secondary Teacher

Gareth is a Secondary Teacher from Australia currently working in West London schools through Protocol Education.

“The Great Unwashed” – a phrase supposedly coined first by novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton. One might wonder whether Bulwer-Lytton taught a Year 9 Geography class, looked across a sea of unmotivated faces, and coined the phrase there and then. 

Alas, he did not. And no doubt he spent little time with the great unwashed, instead opting to socialise with the best of the best building his political and literary career.

Not so for all of us.

A Year 11 student recently put this thought to me:

Sir. If you’re so intelligent, why did you want to become a teacher and waste your time looking after dumb teenagers who don’t care about learning?

I’m not sure how he knew I was intelligent. I must have been absent-mindedly using words that had more than five letters. But he makes a valid point. This question is not uncommon in the classroom and, after much time pondering it, I have concluded a few things.

Don't be unsettled

Firstly, one must not be unsettled by the question. It is another attempt by teenagers with low self-esteem trying to outsource their self-doubt to the nearest adult in the room. Don’t allow such a comment to make you doubt your career choices. There is a tendency as a teacher to fall into the psychological trap of feeling you have ‘gone back to school’. You haven’t – not as a student anyway. You’re now there performing a job, as important as any other in society.

More importantly has been the realisation that some of the most educated people have to work with some of the daftest people. Why? Because that is their job.

A doctor spends many years learning the intricacies of the human body. They develop their bedside manner. They spend years in a highly stimulating academic environment learning their craft. They communicate precise and technical information with their colleagues, only medical practitioners understand. Then they perform a liver transplant on someone who enjoyed the bottle too much – Educated people working with daft people.

An accountant spends years learning the tax system. They perform massive calculations. Many will pay attention to the financial markets and talk about economics with their professional offsiders. They know how to use complicated accounting software. Then they have a seventy-year-old pensioner walk into their office with a biscuit tin full of receipts – Educated people working with daft people.

Comedians spend years honing their craft. They are culturally aware people, satirising the political world. They understand how an audience works and can read moments for comedic timing. Then they perform to a room full of drunken hecklers – Educated people working with daft people.

Don't dwell on these moments

It’s best not to dwell on these moments. It will only get you down. Instead use the moment as an opportunity to impart some intellect that others may have been unable to access in their own being, or too unfortunate to be exposed to. Make the time to feed your own soul with culture, art, conversation and food. And make sure you have a bath, to exclude yourself from the ‘unwashed’. If you do that you’ll have the energy to deal with the daft, ignorant, uneducated and plain stupid.

Related Blogs and Pages

Gareth's Secondary Blog: Classroom Fibs

 In this blog, Gareth ponders on the many ways to challenge bad behaviour in a Secondary classroom in London.

 This is an inciteful and amusing article about working in London schools. Read it here.

My First Day as a Supply Teaching Assistant

Secondary Teachers: Try SEN!

Protocol on Facebook - Protocol on Twitter - Protocol Education's Website

Tags: Gareth, Teacher, Australian Teachers, OTT, Overseas Trained Teachers, Troublesome Teens, Teenagers, Secondary, Why I Teach, Teacher, Year 11, Great Unwashed

Category: Australian Teachers

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