I used to have a really great job. I got to meet world famous authors and celebrities, I travelled around the world and drinking cava was basically considered part of the job. And it wasn’t a “fake” celebrity world; we debated challenging topics and most importantly, for me, brought amazing stories, ideas and wonder to school children from across the UK.
So a lot of people were quite shocked when I gave it all up to be a teacher and even more shocked when I gave up Deputy Headship to work in the mud, with teenagers who bring an awful lot of challenge, on a Farm in the middle of nowhere.
But the fact is, working with teenagers is fantastic, better than any amount of travel or intellectual discussion, because teenagers are fantastic. All the passion, drive and awe that great stories touch upon is burning pure inside each and every one of them.
There are often storms within the teenagers we work with. Storms because life has dealt them shockingly difficult blows and the child within them, no matter how much they may present as old beyond their years, is storming against the unfairness of it all, against the pain or the fear. Some storms come because the disciplines and structures of school seem so far away from the child inside that it fills them with anxiety or rage. Some storms come because the expectations of the world – the looks, the outcomes, the social life – seem so enormous and out-of-reach. Some storms come because the child simply knows that the way life should be is not the way life is and that they bear the consequences.
Some storms come raging out in behaviour that is challenging or anger that is tough to manage. Some storms come with a self-destructive force or with a mighty silence. But all the storms have strength because they come from that pure energy within the teenage soul that is trying to make sense of a world which so often doesn’t make sense. And that purity is fantastic and energising and should not be lost.
Today, teenagers from across the UK are joining other young people from across the world in School Strike for Climate Change. They are petitioning their adults to declare a state of climate emergency. They are being active citizens as their teachers have told them to be. And I salute their storm against something that does not make sense. I salute the purity that cannot comprehend the compromises that the adult world thinks it needs to make and the sacrifice we are making of their future.
At Jamie’s Farm, we aim to help and support all sorts of young people, facing all sorts of challenges in their lives. But one thing we don’t aim to do is change them or suggest that they hide from the difficulties they face. We try to channel their energy into something good, something fulfilling that contributes to their self-esteem because it contributes to the community that they’re in. Instead of going into negative situations, their energy goes into feeding the animals, or feeding their friends, or turning compost heaps, or chopping logs to go on our biomass boiler. In meetings after dinners – without the incessant technology that often gets in the way of true human contact – they give each other shout-outs and they gain recognition for everything that their hard work and energy has achieved. And their pure honesty and thoughtfulness often astounds me and the other adults sitting round the table, for whom age and wisdom have provided layers of defence and pretence.
A key message to them, as they prepare, sometimes with profound sadness, to leave the Farm is that nothing that they have achieved with us was done by us; it was done by them. But that they communicated with us. And that helped.
Today many teenagers are trying to communicate to the adult world that is doing nothing. They are impassioned and driven by a purity of understanding that things are terribly wrong. That the way life should be is not the way it is. That it is them who will bear the consequences.
I hope it helps.
Written by Ruth Young, Education Manager, Hereford