Speaking from experience, there’s strength in weakness

9th March 2018 at 00:00
The greatest resource we have to help guide our young people is our own experience

I recently read a post from a Facebook pal asking for parenting advice. His toddler is going through the “sleep is for losers” phase that so many of our tiny tyrants impose upon us.

Predictably, a comment popped up from a well-meaning buffoon, suggesting that instead of complaining, the moment should be cherished and that these sleep-deprived parents hanging onto their last whisp of sanity will look back on those toddler days with nostalgic regret.

How those parents didn’t tell that profferer of ill-timed advice to shove his shoulds up his clearly well-rested arse, I don’t know. I’m grateful Facebook wasn’t around when I was that parent, or I’d probably have no friends left with whom to exchange bantz and hilarious dog videos.

There is a fictionalisation of every stage of life, what should happen and how we should feel about it. And more recently, how we should feel if we don’t feel how we are told we should.

Shakespeare had a crack at categorising the ages of life, but he lost me early on with the infant “puking in the nurse’s arms”. Babies don’t puke. Babies do a bit of sick, sometimes a lot. One pukes after accidentally consuming a gallon of Echo Falls.

'A time of fear and frustration'

There are particularly divisive fantasies imposed on what it means to be a teenager. For many it’s a brief window of time with enough independence to tread the path of their own choosing, but without the shackles of economic responsibility that being fully independent demands. The best days of their lives.

But what if it isn’t, though? What if it’s a time of fear and confusion. What if those feelings of not being attractive enough, popular enough or clever enough are overwhelming?

In reality, it is a time of great pressure. We expect them to choose the right future for themselves when time doesn’t yet carry the weight of context and experience. We expect them to make the right choices when their rapidly changing physicality has them veering between feelings of invincibility and total powerlessness.

How do we dispute these myths and help learners understand that they don’t have to conform to any stereotype?

Our impact on those we are with day in, day out, at one of the most suggestible times is a huge responsibility. How many of us can’t remember what happened last week, but can recall specific interactions with teachers from 30 years ago?

The greatest resource that we have to help guide our young people is our own experience. If you are cracking on a bit and haven’t waded uphill through the shit at some point, then you’re either improbably lucky or are untroubled by self-awareness.

I believe that students knowing we as teachers can be vulnerable and powerful simultaneously enables them to understand that they can be, too.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is the director of UKFEchat

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