As a woman of a ‘certain age’, my cultural relevance is often called into question by my students.
Who can blame them really?
It’s a documented fact that children and young teenagers have a warped impression of how old adults are.
Ask a 14 year old for a rough estimate of how old you are and they’re almost always guaranteed to overestimate. Once you’ve soothed your battered ego and forgiven the child for their obvious mistake, it’s worth considering the importance behind their beliefs.
The child is keenly aware of how old she is – it’s one of the most important markers of their identity and a key way that she differentiates between herself and others. For example, if a young boy is 13-years old, he will almost always look up to boys significantly older – those aged 16-years and up.
The pattern does not necessarily follow right the way up to older men though – as many teachers will not so happily be aware of.
The larger the age difference between the child and the adult (the teacher in our situation), the less the child will readily accept their opinions on certain matters, simply because they do not value their knowledge base as culturally relevant. Children are often wont to drastically mistake the age of older people – you may well be a new teacher in their mid-twenties, but they could see you as being anywhere from thirty up to forty-five.
The greater this perceived age difference is, the less you will be respected on a cultural level by your students.
Now, cultural respect is a different form of approval than the respect a child has for your authority as a teacher. A Maths teacher, for example, would not need to carry a huge amount of cultural respect in order for their worthiness as a teacher to be accepted. However, the more cultural respect that a student has for their teacher, the more likely they are to see their subject as relevant.
Now – before you go ahead and start spamming Buzz Feed for today’s trending Gifs and Memes, don’t think your kids will be easily fooled by simply name-checking a few things you’ve scanned during your lunch break. In order to improve your cultural standing with your students you must first immerse yourself in their culture.
The constant expansion of the internet has made young people’s cultural interests impossible to predict.
Although it’s still reasonable to assume that most young boys will be familiar with Premier League Football, it would be dangerously presumptuous to assume that you can gain brownie points from all of your male students on the basis of a few off-hand remarks.