Last Thursday, for the first time in my life, I supervised a high school exam at my boys’ school. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the bizarre teenage behaviour on display. My twin boys are only six, so I am used to Lego everywhere, Star Wars obsessions and the hilarity that seems to accompany any joke involving toilets. What I am not used to (and wasn’t quite ready to face) was the sixteen and seventeen year old inability to focus, concentrate, sit still or behave any better than…well…a six year old boy.
The exam in question was a standardized test set by the government so the rules were extremely strict – to the point that I had to read out instructions verbatim from a booklet (no paraphrasing or deviations allowed) and had to watch the clock and strike off 15 minute time increments on the whiteboard. I also had to pretend to be a really stern mother patrolling the aisles to ensure no one had unauthorized stationery…So what did I encounter (apart from all the unauthorized stationery)??
- The boys who arrived and promptly fell asleep at his desk for 45 minutes. I had to wake him when he started snoring but I still don’t think he actually did anything on the exam. Instead he drew on his hand, drew on the desk, chewed gum, sighed, tried to sleep again, doodled all over the exam booklet and generally behaved like someone with a mental disorder of some kind.
- Half the class who had come to an exam without pencils or eraser even though…yes, you guessed it that was all that was required.
- The boy who constantly sniffed and made bizarre wheezy-nose noises but still refused to take the tissue I offered, despite grossing me out for most of the morning.
- The boy at the back who decided that making dandruff pictures (a la the Breakfast Club) was the most inspired use of his time – oh, as well as cracking his knuckles. Delightful in a small confined space like a classroom…yes, truly delightful.
These were just a few of the behaviours I witnessed, and to be honest I shouldn’t have been at all surprised except that I seem to remember when I was doing exams I didn’t really have the urge to sleep but rather to panic. Perhaps what surprised me the most was that no one in the class seemed to give a toss.
So what insight has this experience given me?
- Well, that it’s no surprise boys aren’t reading. From what I saw, it’s a miracle they can get out of bed in the morning and dress themselves.
- That most sixteen and seventeen year olds are really young and immature (I was giving them far more credit before this experience).
- For most boys a toilet level of humour still applies.
- That I will never be able to describe the hairstyles that have been adopted without laughing.
- That Twilight level romance is so far-fetched at this level it’s laughable.
- That the gap between the maturity levels of girls and boys at this age is so vast, that I may as well forget boys as a target audience all together.
The experience was certainly ‘interesting’ and I rather liked playing the mean teacher role (hmm..what does that say about me) but it many ways this more of a reality-check for me as a potential YA author.
So…how many of you have ever had the delight of working closely with teenagers?
Any other insights you’d like to share on the shadowy depths of the teenage mind?