“They’re all mistakes, children! Filthy, nasty things. Glad I never was one”
Sound familiar? This quote is taken from the film Matilda. Miss Trunchbull, Matilda’s principal, ranks number three on Time Magazine’s “Top Ten Bad Teachers.” All of the characters listed in the top ten are exaggerated versions of teachers that epitomize all of the qualities that we wouldn’t want in an educator.
The fact that Time Magazine felt the need to create this list reveals the climate in which we live. The government and the public are ready to blame teachers for all of schools’ ills, and teachers are made to be villains such as Miss Trunchbull.
“Glad I never was one”
However, there is a ring of truth in each of these teachers. Miss Trunchbull articulates one of the main difficulties in teaching today’s students. Because of new technologies, more graphic movies and video games, and the super-influence of the media, today’s students are so different from how we remember ourselves as children. In addition, as we get older, we grow more removed from the daily lives, concerns, struggles, and triumphs of adolescence. We begin to feel as if we were never children, at least not children like them.
“I’m big and you’re small, I’m right and you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”
We tend to fear difference, otherness, the unknown. Adolescents today often fall into this category. Teachers most certainly care about their students. We want to help them develop into competent, confident adults, but our ideas about what this means are often different from those of our students. Unfortunately, our students also often misinterpret our fears and misunderstandings to be the type of statement above. We fail to understand them, and they fail to understand us.
We have to acknowledge that students today aren’t like us because they have grown up in a different world. We are responsible for the world that they are now living in, and it’s not an easy one. Children are growing up differently, and often much more quickly in today’s world. According to Josephine Peyton Young, Deborah R. Dillon, and Elizabeth Birr Moje’s “Shape-shifting portfolios: Millennial youth, literacies, and the game of life” (2008), “Young people today face unprecedented levels of poverty and violence” (16). One in three kids will live in poverty at some point during their childhood, and 75% of the industrialized world’s violent youth deaths occur in the United States (16-17).
Regardless of our different worlds, adolescents still feel many of the pressures that we felt at their age: the pressure to fit in, do well in school (but not too well), excel in sports, and please their parents, while at the same time forming their own unique identities. Adolescents just go about navigating these pressures in different ways. Despite, or perhaps in spite of, these pressures, most teens juggle life at home, at school, with friends, and online very successfully.
In order to reconnect with adolescence, we need to remember our own experiences. However, we also have to allow that when adolescents claim that we “don’t understand,” we may really not understand. We should try to connect to the worlds that adolescents are living in, whether that be by creating a Twitter account, allowing students to work collaboratively, or even simply admitting, “I don’t understand. Can you please explain?”