Sometimes young people get on my nerves terribly

Cartoon by Peter Brunke (2003)

I’m not sure if I should be a teacher.

Sometimes young people get on my nerves terribly.  They know everything, opening their mouths to reveal, mostly, that they know very little.  And they reveal this with such cockiness that you just wanna slap ’em in the mouth like a misbehaving child.

I’m convinced that this kind of thinking has been the Universe’s most effective source of contraception for me.  Forget Magnum and Ortho Evra, go into an American university classroom for twenty minutes and you, too, will discover the mind’s absolute ability to determine the body’s functions.  Many of my eggs have dried up not thanks to the years I’ve clocked on the calendar but the ones I’ve clocked in the classroom.

Case and point.  An English upperclass student tells me: “A periodical is different than a literary journal.”  I begin to explain, “A literary journal is a type of—“  “No but a periodical is actually, really different,” she shushed me authoritatively and went on to explain how a scholarly journal and a literary journal were, in fact, practically the same.

I should not have such a hard time with this situation.  They call these teaching moments and I missed my opportunity.  I let her finish and didn’t bother to repeat—to teach—the definition of a periodical.  My inclination was to act her age, “Heffer, are rain and water the same?!  Alright then!”

Letting her go forward thinking that rain and water are different is the kind of disservice I try to be so careful not to do to students.  But that takes a lot of work: holding your hand back from the pimp slap it so desires to execute; maintaining your poker face; keeping your lips from forming to wonder aloud, “What the F***?!”


Most days I am good at setting expectations I believe they can reach albeit with a little work.  I sincerely want them to be capable thinkers and communicators of their thinking.  And most of the time I want to offer them as much information as I can and I want them to use it to pursue even more. But then they open their mouths to tell me they “already know.”

What I find, instead, in their authoritative voices, is they really do not know that rain and water are not separate things.  That what they “already know” is really the same thing as what they don’t.  At 18, 19, heck, 25, I thought I knew.  And I did know what I knew.  The more living I did, the more I learned; the more I knew.  And at each age, I knew what I knew.

They know what they know.  It’s limited by their experience. But just as right now, I am sure of some things, so too are they.  I just wish they would shut up sometimes and let those who know a little bit (and granted, it’s only a little bit) more help them to know more.

But I guess that’s part of what made youth so fun for us in the first place.  It’s why we say, “If I knew then what I know now…” drifting off into a daydream, grinning right sneaky.###


6 thoughts on “Sometimes young people get on my nerves terribly

  1. My sympathies. This is one of the reasons I didn’t go into teaching after getting my Ph.D.

    I hear that not all schools have these kinds of students. I was a T.A. at a school populated mostly by upper-middle class white sons and daughters of Microsoft employees, so it was particularly bad.

    But lately I’m finding the blogosphere pretty full of know-it-alls, too. Maybe it is just the price one pays for conversing with intelligent people.


  2. OMG how could u say that!!!!!!??? You acting like its EVERY YOUNG PERSON and i really find this disgusting!!! But fine, if young people get on your nerves, adults et on my nerves! 🙂 happy xx


  3. Disgusting? Wow, such strong language!

    I think the “that” you’re referring to is the title: that *sometimes* young people get on my nerves. Well *sometimes* they do. Can’t apologize for that. Just like overpriced grapes and deafening car stereos drive me a little batty.

    Young people get on my nerves mostly because I love ’em enough to want them to hear what me and people like me who have been around the blocks they’re heading around have to say about the terrain. We don’t know it *all*–I mean, some of the potholes have been cleared up; some new ones have come along.

    Luckily, I was a young person once and I was very good at straining the patience of many adults who had my best interests in mind when they tried to tell me how to get from teen street to adult avenue. Their example is how I learned to care so hard that my nerves hurt sometimes. That’s when, like you, adults (this adult in particular) gets on her own nerves!

    She’s so busy being “mature” that she forgets the lesson of youth–the one in the last paragraph if you weren’t too disgusted to read the post to the end–that sometimes ignorance is its own bliss because it (ignorance, that is) allows you to leap into whatever fun and adventure–no matter the risk or danger– is to be had around that block, trusting a net will eventually appear.

    If you’re a young person (or young person at heart), I’d hope you wouldn’t feel disgusted by my concern and anxiety but feel really, really cared about.


  4. I think that “I already know” is a like a knee-jerk defense. I find that my students having never been told that they don’t know things (lest it damage their self esteem), are terribly afraid of not knowing stuff. Me, I’m happy to admit ignorance; I do it all the time. I don’t know whether this difference in attitude is because I am older, or because I was educated in a different country, or both. (See how I did that, said I didn’t know something?)

    I was told today by a student who got 29 out of 70 on a grammar quiz that “he already knew this stuff.” Talk about flying in the face of the evidence.


  5. i think admitting ignorance might come with maturity like you suggest whatladder.
    and i start feeling all guilty for expecting that of them.
    immaturity has its place and everybody should have a chance to be immature for awhile. because the other side of the coin is watching kids grow up too fast. that’s sad.

    i guess i just wanna tell them it’s okay to be immature/not know it all. everybody who runs had
    to learn to walk first and they were probably modeling the behavior of somebody who’d already learned to do it.

    thanks for visitng and adding some more insight to this discussion.
    hope you stop back through some time!


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