Sian Davies, Assistant Headteacher of the Sixth Form at Jebel Ali School
A question many parents ask themselves, at least once, when their children hit those ‘problematic years’ is: why would anyone remotely coherent and sane choose to work in a school, especially one with teenagers?
Schools are marvellous places, altruistic organisations where young minds are developed and children explore their philosophical outlook on life, the world and everything. Pragmatically, they are establishments where parents send children to be cared for while they work. Cynics say they are a place to send children so that parents can achieve some peace and quiet.
Teenagers are the anti-heroes of developmental phases, as bad as the infamous ‘terrible twos’
Nelson Mandela praised education as: “The most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Mandela recognised that schools help young people to learn life’s necessities: how to read and write, how to communicate effectively, how to make friends and settle disputes, play sports, act, sing, learn an instrument, pass exams, make jokes, share adventures, and develop kindness, resilience and determination. Mandela also recognised education as a tool for the empowerment of young people.
Einstein was more critical of schools: “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
Does school make education more of a challenge? Arguably it does; as schools are full of teenagers. Teenagers experiencing growth spurts, hormonal surges and huge developmental changes: physical, cognitive and emotional.
The teenage years are notorious for impulsive behaviour, recklessness, disobedience, subversive rebellion, strange clothing choices, dyed hair or long hair or shaved hair, or a combination of all three. Monotone answers (if given at all), excessive sleep, shouting, defiance, a loathing of authority and a desire for irresponsibility. Teenagers are the anti-heroes of developmental phases, as bad as the infamous ‘terrible twos’.
At Jebel Ali School we adore our evolving Sixth Form and its popularity with our local community
Which brings us back to the question: Why would anyone remotely coherent and sane choose to work in a school, with teenagers?
A recent British YouGov survey asked almost 1,000 teachers to cite the reasons why they worked in the profession. The top reason? 83% of teachers said seeing pupils develop and achieve. What is all the more astounding about this figure is that teenagers are not renowned for good judgement, sensible decisions or respectful love of authority. They are not renowned for heroism. And yet, as teachers we love our jobs. At Jebel Ali School we adore our evolving Sixth Form and its popularity with our local community, we love the existing students and young people new to the school who are becoming part of our exciting post-16 provision.
We strive for our best to honour young people’s decisions and support them in their learning, supporting them on their hero’s journeys.
Since Einstein’s school days, educationalists have become more aware of the cognitive developments in young brains. We know that the rational part of a teenager’s brain is not fully developed, and won’t be until the age of 25. Teenage brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part, the part that responds to situations with good judgement and an awareness of long-term consequences. Unlike adults, Teenagers process information with the amygdala, the emotional part of the brain.
Being a teenager takes immense courage and energy
Teenagers’ brains are still developing the connections between the emotional and the decision-making centre. They often experience overwhelming emotional inputs, which they find difficult to explain because their feelings are more powerful than the rational aspects of their brains. This can lead to shouting with frustration, denying homework ever existed in the first place and hating everyone, everywhere, all of the time.
A teenager’s brain also becomes more able to think abstractly. They can make plans and set long-term goals, they can develop an interest in the larger world, concerned with philosophy, politics, and social issues. Teenagers see the potential for independence and control, and, conversely, peer influence and acceptance become more important; they compare themselves to their peers. This can lead to insecurity, joy and anger – sometimes all at the same time.
The teenage years are also a period of growth spurts and puberty. Teenagers grow at a fast pace and their bodies go through changes which can feel overwhelming, frustrating and sometimes frightening. They can be more gawky, clumsy spiders than graceful, heroic athletes or dancers.
We know that the rational part of a teenager’s brain is not fully developed, and won’t be until the age of 25
So we ask again, why would anyone remotely coherent and sane choose to work in a school, with teenagers?
The response, for me, is that it can feel quite magical to work in a school and just watch, over the course of a year or years, as these teenagers become young people. It feels magical to watch teenagers’ brains develop as they discover the breadth and beauty of the world, as they create opinions and battle their impulsivity and make mistakes. At the end of this piece is a link to a poem which encapsulates the celebration of life as a teacher and the joys of working with young people at Jebel Ali School every day.
It is magical, as a teacher, to be a part of young people’s lives at this stage of their development. Being a teenager takes immense courage and energy, every single day, to face GCSE exams and A-levels, to negotiate friendships and expectations, and depths of feelings which seem inexplicable. And teenagers walk their paths every day with hope and joy and sometimes fear, and they journey on their paths with energy and resilience. We are privileged to see those children emerge from the chrysalis of their teenage years and become young adults. We teach in schools, with teenagers, because it is an everyday miracle, to experience the glory of the humble teenager as they walk their hero’s journey.
Celebration of Life as a Teacher
Jebel Ali School
+971 4 884 6485
Sian Davies, Assistant Headteacher and English Literature Teacher at Jebel Ali School. Sian is a voracious reader and lover of literature. She has worked in Qatar, Spain, the UK and Dubai. With a passion for pedagogy, student leadership and holistic education, Sian is currently studying for her Masters in Education.