Age of trials

The young student asked a question and looked up at me. Her question flitted straight through my mind. I suppose I mumbled some answer. But I was struck by how young she was. A first-year university student, but looking so much younger. Had students got younger, or had I simply not realized the increasing difference in age and experience that separated us?
Recently I asked one group of new students what the oldest world event they could remember, an event that had an impact that the world outside existed, that they have never forgotten. The common answer was 9/11. The world before 9/11 was history; the world since 9/11 was experience.
My mind shot back to when the world met me. I was in primary school, and then suddenly we were introduced to some new pupils who didn’t speak English. We would have some Hungarian children in the class. They had escaped from their homeland with their parents. I knew something had happened but for years I didn’t understand why they should have fled Hungary. It was 1956.
And then came Sputnik. All of a sudden the world was not just the world. It was a small object in a gigantic space. The space programmes and races caught my attention. What an exciting frontier for a young boy! The challenge, the adventure, the immensity, yes, everything was there. I would have been as wide-eyed as the young student. Yet, is the future as exciting today as it was then?
Teachers live in a wonderful environment, surrounded by enthusiastic young people, eager to learn (we hope), although not necessarily eager to learn what we think we teach. And we can get misinterpret the vibrancy of youth, forgetting where we came from.
I learned a lesson early in my teaching career, as a newly qualified secondary school teacher with an exam class of 15-16-year-olds. As was their wont, they played up, poked fun at what I was trying to do, and in doing so made a lot of noise. Exasperated, I tried to regain control, and said, “Stop it! You’re behaving like children!” To my surprise, it worked. There was silence for a few seconds, and then we all burst out laughing.

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