On Writing and Teaching Teenagers

A couple of years ago, I was told that the student I thought I was supposed to be tutoring in math also needed help in reading and writing.

Except that he didn’t.

To be clear, he didn’t need help in math either. He could do entire questions in his head while whistling his own made-up tunes.

But I could understand why he would suffer on report cards. He was a perpetual noise-making motion machine and a class clown. He never tired of the word “Why?” – even when he knew perfectly well why. He rolled his eyes and was intentionally inflammatory. He blatantly defied instructions while being the only student in a room sitting directly across from his teacher. I imagine he’s difficult in a class of thirty.

But that’s exactly what should make him a great writer.

Think about what it takes to be difficult. Defiance. Insubordination. Stubbornness. Captiousness. Humour. Creativity. Quick wit.

Those are all qualities of good writers. Writers are the relentless askers of questions, the defiers of authority, and the nit-pickers of every detail. They are those who can draw the absurdity out of the everyday, and make people laugh and rage and blush and raise their eyebrows and twist themselves up into knots.

Now, just because he has an impressive aptitude doesn’t mean he’s destined to become the next Stephen King, and it doesn’t excuse his behavioural problems, either. But sometimes it’s nice to be able to look at a difficult kid and say, “This is your time to shine.”


rachaelRachael Heffernan recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

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