Introducing RevolTeens, a new monthly column with Christine Lively
Today we are excited to share with you a new monthly feature that will be highlighting amazing teens doing amazing things. This new column, RevolTeens, will be brought to you each month by Christine Lively. She’s here today to introduce herself and tell you more about the column. At the end, please share with us some of the teens that inspire you in the comments, keeping in mind privacy rights so use first names only and even a fake first name works. Or it can be a public figure. Our goal here is to show how amazing teens can be by sharing stories and shattering stereotypes.
“I’m a middle (or high) school teacher.”
Any of us who has ever told someone this has inevitably been met with a response along the lines of, “Wow. I can’t imagine doing that!” or an incredulous “Why?” or “Ugh, teens are loud/obnoxious/ridiculous.” Sometimes I get a sympathetic, “Better you than me!” or “I could never do that.” Teens can be unruly, uncouth, and excitable, for sure. Those same qualities that make some adults cringe at the thought of spending time with them are the same qualities that make teens irresistible to those of us who love to work with them.
I have worked in middle and high schools for ten years now. When I became a teacher and school librarian after staying home with my own children, my experience with kids was focused on the preschool and elementary set that my kids were a part of at the time. Little kids misbehavior is usually seen as adorable and part of a learning process. Painting outside lines, making a mess at snack time, pushing someone out of the way in line, and other kinds of transgressions are just part of being a kid and learning. In so many ways, teens are just bigger and older kids who still make mistakes and break occasional rules, but when they do, they’re judged quickly and harshly. They should know better by now, and follow the rules.
Working with teenagers was a bit of a shock to me at the time. I had loved school and found the order and expectations of the classroom to be comforting. I knew that not everyone liked school or their teachers, I didn’t fully appreciate how frustrating school could be for so many students. The students who surprised me the most were the loud, obnoxious, angry, and rebellious kids that I encountered every day. How could they walk in the door with no interest in what we were doing? Why did they question nearly every instruction I gave? I was frustrated and felt that I just couldn’t get through to my them. Like every teacher, I thought to myself, “What is wrong with these kids?” It wasn’t the kids. It was me.
I soon realized that the energy, curiosity, and rebelliousness of my students was what I admired and genuinely liked the most about them. They made me laugh and made me think. Where other adults saw them as obnoxious, I saw them as rebels in the best and most positive way. They didn’t accept rules without question. They were outraged when they thought they or their classmates were treated unfairly. They wanted their world to make sense and to be just. They weren’t going to do anything because someone “said so.”
Schools are focused strongly on conforming, behaving, and toeing the line. The path to success is time honored and unquestioned: Get the best grades. Go to the best college. Get the best job. Do what you have to do to get there. Any deviation from this path is not just frowned upon but punished. Teens don’t even have the choice to fail a class any more, they just get more and more help and retesting until they get a passing grade. If they hate math and aren’t successful in it, they are assigned an additional class period of math remediation. So they have to spend twice as much time on a subject they hate and don’t feel successful in, and give up an elective that they would have enjoyed. Few students feel able to fight the system and question the rules. We don’t give them choices or listen to them. We give them instructions and “because that’s how it works” explanations.
Yet, we know that the rules and traditions are not the only path to success and so do teens. They see their favorite musicians, YouTube stars, actors, and business moguls become successful and being noticed because they break the rules. The heroes of their favorite movies, books, and news stories are teens or young adults who revolt. Heroes like Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Miles Morales, and Starr Carter are heroic because they question and stand up to the unjust systems they’re living within. We enjoy these stories too and enjoy them with our kids, but something happens to us when they become teenagers.
We want teens to be successful just as much as we want them to be safe and happy. That conflict is overwhelming for parents and teachers alike.
I remember sitting down with my daughter as she was about to start middle school. I told her this, “Your job for the next six years is to get the best grades you can possibly get. It doesn’t matter if your teacher is a jerk or if the class is stupid. Your grades will determine your future, and you need to give yourself the best chance you can to be successful and have choices after you graduate from high school.” I am ashamed to think of it now. I value grades, college, and traditional success differently now, but this is still the ingrained message kids and parents hear from teachers, counselors, administrators, family members, and in media stories and it’s dangerous. If every teen followed and never questioned the rules, if there wasn’t a kid revolting, our world wouldn’t change. We need to tell teens that they can change our world, and celebrate when they do. We need RevolTeens.
There are heroes out there among teens and young adults. Yes, they make waves, they break rules, and often become the change agents in the world. Their lives and decisions are the stuff of stories we retell in novels and on the big and small screen. In this space, I’ll be sharing stories of teens who challenge authority, make waves, and find success outside the traditional path. The kids who might sing the song that Tim Minchin wrote for Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, “We are revolting children, living in revolting times!”
Watch this space for more RevolTeens.
About Christine Lively
Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively
Filed under: Advocacy
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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