One of the most important things for all teachers to remember is that, from where we are standing, teenagers are alien creatures. A simple trip down memory lane is enough to bring this home for me, as yesterday, in a rare quiet moment, I was reminded of the time over 20 years ago when I was a third year, in the November before my Inter Cert, and my grandfather passed away.
Yet what I remember best is not the grief I experienced at this death in the family. What I recall feeling, back then when my grandfather had been mortally ill and then died, was the very public humiliation to my fragile ego of having gone out with a girl for the grand total of just five days.
On the Saturday after walking my brand new first girlfriend back from the disco, I had gone to kiss her and missed completely as she unexpectedly moved away. I never recovered from the mortification. By the following Wednesday, at 5pm after school, she had dumped me and gone to meet my replacement in the form of a rugby-playing fifth year, and by that very evening they were crouching, touching and engaging with each other.
For a brief moment, the present version of me remembered that skinny but relatively callous eejit I used to be and remembered once more what teenagers consider important.
Today this helps me cope when dealing with the contemporary disappointment of dealing with two of my third years. Meet Miranda -- 'till this year, my best student. In first and second year, she was the brightest star that outshone all others. She read books, played the violin, was polite and never missed a day.
Today I walk into the room and there she is chasing Dylan Quint around. She catches him and spits chewing gum into his hair. Not a big deal in our school, I can assure you, but an indication of where Miranda is today.
I give her the old spiel about respect, behaviour and personal dignity and there she stands; a cynical snarl playing about her lips, a sneer just barely audible -- all designed to communicate the message that she's cool and I'm a superannuated cretin. Rumour has it she calls me an SOG: 'Sad Old Git.'
Then there's her classmate, Dylan Quint. Equally contemptuous but crucially never arrives with a book, a pen or homework, unlike Miranda who still works hard. Dylan doesn't care and has no problem telling everybody -- he just laughs at me as I struggle to get him to learn something.
In my newly found teen-wisdom, Miranda's attitude doesn't bother me. Regarding teachers and her elders the same way as I did at her age, she exhibits the standard attitude for her age group.
Whereas Dylan seems already to have given up on life, and has a struggle ahead of him as he lacks the confidence to exhibit anything apart from a lack of respect for everybody. Tragically, that includes her.