I have a love-hate relationship with Grade 9.
Walking into the classroom, you can almost smell the hormones in the air: the anxiety of teenagers trying to shake off primary school identities and find their ‘grown-up’ individuality; the adolescent angst; the confusion of young people trying to come to terms with growing up. You see the lovesickness in the eyes of those going through their first crush (which is so all consuming, don’t you dare tell them that their attention would better turned to prepositions for forty minutes). Childhood friendships shift and change in front of you – which will be good for some and damaging for others. There is so much going-on with these kids.
When I face a classroom filled with 30 or so of these individuals, I know it won’t be easy.
You can’t get them excited about stickers on their work – they are far too grown up for that nonsense. Don’t worry, when they reach Grade 11 it will become cool again – in a nostalgic sort of way. It’s not acceptable to show excitement about schoolwork, no matter how much they really enjoy your lesson. They need to challenge authority and push boundaries. They struggle to express their emotions. They haven’t yet gained the tools for compartmentalizing their lives.
And you are expected to teach them? Expected to inspire them, captivate them and instil in them a thirst for knowledge?
It will be chalked up as a win if I make it through the lesson without crying.
That’s the hate part of the relationship. But what about the love?
Well, there is a different side to these challenging young people; a rather amazing side.
They have a youthful energy and exuberance which can take you by surprise. They are on the verge of becoming real people, with original thoughts and individual passions. They are discovering who they are and what they want to do with their lives, while making choices and decisions which may define their adult paths. They have an ability to see things as black-and-white, which we need to be reminded of from time to time. They possess beautifully naïve ideals which challenge the status quo, and push the boundaries (in a good way). Most importantly, they hold the belief that they can change the world,. And, you know… they really just might. And sometimes, in spite of all they are going through, they manage to come out with startling wisdom and youthful creativity.
Really, teaching these young people is a privilege.