The Secret Teacher: ‘If children are the future, then it isn’t all that bright’

Young people are massively disconnected from the world and its problems

“Consumption of spirits starts early in secondary school; you might not have noticed it because it’s diluted in the oh-so-innocent Fanta or Coca Cola.” Photo: iStock

“Consumption of spirits starts early in secondary school; you might not have noticed it because it’s diluted in the oh-so-innocent Fanta or Coca Cola.” Photo: iStock

 

Here’s a dilemma: I enjoy teaching and I think it’s a wonderful vocation, but in daily life I’m often on the brink because I feel I’ve really had it with young people today.

Even though they have the benefit of the latest technology and the most advanced research, they behave as though they don’t have a clue. And they probably don’t. How would they? Playing Fortnite into the small hours or before school is hardly going to produce a bright mind and a well-rounded individual.

Ask them to name a politician and those who can (because even that’s not a given) almost without exception plump for Trump.

His notoriety extends well beyond politics – which is why they know him. They certainly can’t outline his political views on anything. Ask them what the Kardashians had for breakfast, however, and that’s a test they will ace.

There is surely something amiss when an increasing number of adolescents are reluctant to make eye contact or extend basic greetings at the start of class

Young people are essentially functioning under a massive disconnect from the world and its problems.

There is an environmental crisis they appear to be unaware of, largely because it is neither sexy enough nor promoted by fashionable celebrities. The amount of food and packaging they regularly leave lying around beggars belief.

And before anyone expresses concern about my ability to control a class, this isn’t in any way about showing disrespect for me. There is a more basic logic at play: why would they throw their own rubbish in the bin when the school has cleaning staff? Think about that, it makes sense.

Shocking

Food poverty also comes to mind of course, but we don’t learn much about that from the people whose stories we follow on Snapchat or Instagram, so we have no concept of how shocking it is to bin an entire packed lunch untouched.

There was a time when saying thank you was a societal norm; it’s something adults do without even thinking about it.

Handing over money to a GP we nonetheless express gratitude verbally for the service they have just provided. At the checkout we thank the cashiers, even though they are getting paid to work there.

But in just over two decades in the classroom, I notice an alarming decrease in the frequency of the thank-yous as the students leave after a class.

Am I asking for too much by expecting them to be grateful? Maybe. But there is surely something amiss when an increasing number of adolescents are reluctant to make eye contact or extend the basic greetings at the start and end of class. After all, they are not struggling in the language of likes, retweets and faceswaps.

Like the rubbish, graffiti is on the rise. It may not often take the form of serious damage, such as taking over a whole wall when nobody is looking, but rather the mindless doodling on the desk or wall around their seat. If they go on to do this out in the real world after leaving school, it will constitute criminal damage – but they are ignorant of this, and would laugh in your face if you pointed it out. I have had that experience.

Spirits

Consumption of spirits starts early in secondary school; you might not have noticed it because it’s diluted in the oh-so-innocent Fanta or Coca Cola. This easily explains how girls can confidently leave the house so skimpily clad. It doesn’t explain how their parents can allow it, but that’s a different debate.

Their mental health is also under strain. A recent survey of 2,500 teenagers found that almost two-thirds rated their mental health as “average”, “poor” or “very poor”. Isn’t this disturbing statistic either the chicken or the egg for that behaviour, I observe daily. Which is also a topic for another day, but the two are indisputably connected.

Warning

One for the animal lovers now, and it comes with a warning (as did the video of the events when it was shared by animal rescues). In the early hours of August 13th, and in her own home, a tiny kitten was placed on a hot plate by one young man while a friend filmed. She was then kicked and flung around the kitchen like a rugby ball (also filmed).

This came to light precisely because one of the perpetrators posted it online. The adults in the house were asleep upstairs and have since surrendered the kitten to be rehomed. The kitten, at least, is getting a second chance.

So I’ll give young people another chance too. Of course I haven’t really had it with them – I am simply very worried.