Let's hear it for the cheery helpful teens

10th February 2006 at 00:00
Teenagers on the rampage, teenagers taking drugs, teenagers drunk in the streets. This is the impression anyone would get of our young people if they looked at the newspaper headlines for a week. TV is just as guilty; think of Catherine Tate's insolent Lauren, Matt Lucas's mouthy Vicky or Harry Enfield's grunting Kevin. And as for radio, well, if you have been listening to the shenanigans in The Archers with young Emma and the Grundy brothers Will and Ed, then you will understand what I mean by youngsters getting a bad press.

I have a different point of view. I see teenagers who, despite having learning difficulties and maybe physical difficulties too, grow up to be confident young people who make a positive contribution to society, making their parents and us proud by such things as gaining their Duke of Edinburgh awards, taking part in work experience and learning to cope with life in a positive way.

I also see teenagers who come to us as volunteers from mainstream schools.

They often start as Year 10 work experience candidates and I'm usually impressed by their letters of introduction: "I play the bugle, I'm in St John's, I teach gymnastics, I speak German, French and Urdu." They often return to us as volunteers or paid team members in our holiday play schemes and spend two weeks of their summer holidays with our children, giving them a fun time while their parents and families have a much needed break. They come back to us again when they are at college studying early years or health and social care.

What great people, knowing from such an early age that they want to work in caring professions and already understanding the rewards of being able to help others. They often bring added talents into school too, and I'll never cease to be impressed at how many people who haven't been on the planet for that long can already teach Scottish country dancing, are skilled footballers, love drama and want to share this with others, can sing, play the flute or dress a burn wound with confidence and competence. Many go on to apply for jobs with us and become members of staff. One of the satisfying things about being in the same school for a while is seeing these young people - remembering them as shy students - developing their skills and confidence and surprising us by offering to direct the school play, teach a dance class or run a breakfast club.

Our youngest member of staff is just 18 and it's great to have her here, even if just to balance out us oldies. Mind you, I've lived with a Kevin and a Lauren, so I know there's a grain of truth in the television versions. As for me, I didn't go through the horrible teenager stage myself, so my ambition now is to grow up to be Catherine Tate's "evil gran".

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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