Teenagers Are Weird

Desks Tipped OverTeenagers are weird.

A few short weeks ago, on April 1st, I returned from lunch to discover that a couple of my girls had turned every student desk in the room onto its side or back. They were already in rather random formation for silent reading day, but this made it look like there’d been some sort of explosion.

Students entering the room were flummoxed. “What – why – WHY did you DO this?!” they demanded of me – even those who’d clearly just walked back from lunch with me and knew – at least in theory- that I hadn’t been in the room since they’d left it with me a half-hour prior.

I wasn’t upset. As April Fool’s gags go, it wasn’t a particularly funny one, but neither was it destructive. They were just desks, on their sides and backs. I stayed at the door as expected in my building and shortly before the bell was approached by a student from another hour with a pressing question. I walked in to begin class about a minute after the bell.

About a third of my kids had righted their desks and were murmur-mingling as they waited. Ideally they’d have started silent reading without my having to announce it – it’s every Friday, it’s not news – but it’s not unusual for me to have to get them started. 

Huh?!What threw me, though, was seeing the remaining two-thirds of my kids standing near their toppled desks, looking bewildered – a tad annoyed, maybe a bit hurt as well. Clearly, however, at a complete loss as to what to do. 

They’ve been with me for eight months working on mindset and grit and going around the leaf, but when confronted with a desk on its side, they had absolutely NO idea how they might possibly proceed. It would simply never occur to most of them to move past their horror over this unexpected wrinkle and begin considering options.

Like, for instance, righting their desk. Then sitting in it. 

I’d have also accepted sitting elsewhere – on the floor, or in one of the many empty extra chairs in the room. At that point even seeking outside assistance would have been an encouraging step in the right direction. 

But no. They were at an impasse. Had I not explained – with some irritation – how to proceed, they’d likely still be standing there today.

Teenagers are weird. 

Earlier that day, I was less certain of how to react with a very different group. It was silent reading day, and for once everyone had come prepared with a book of choice. I was modeling sustained silent reading as well (a departmental priority despite grading and planning and emails and forms all vying for our attention). 

Silent ReadingNo headphones were loud enough to produce bug-beats (the pinched, high-pitch drum noises you get from ear buds when the music is too loud), and most students seemed to be engaged. It was strangely quiet.


Just one sniffle. No biggie. Probably not even noticeable to anyone but me. I’m weird like that.


Another, elsewhere in the room.

*sniff* … *sniff* … … … *sniffsniff* *SNIFF* … *snifflesniff* … … … … … *sniff*

Annoyed SnapeI refused to look up and react, because – and this is what’s so ridiculous – I had no idea whether they were messing with me or not. 

It’s entirely possible. They’re freshmen. They’d need no plan, no malice, to simply do a surround-sound sniffle throughout the hour – keeping themselves entertained and their teacher distracted and crazy for an entire class period.

But maybe not. Kids are convincingly clueless when it comes to snorts and taps and innocuous noises. They eat Cheetos at deafening volumes without realization, and I may genuinely be the only one who notices, they’re so accustomed. You’ve been at the movies with them – you know the power of their complete lack of awareness.

Thus my dilemma – was I going to disrupt silent reading to accuse a dozen kids of… malicious sniffling?

How do you make THAT phone call? Is there a Board policy to go on the D-hall slip for that?

But if they were playing me, and I let it keep going, it would just get worse. I appreciate a little jibe here and there, but you can’t let freshmen get TOO much of a foothold, or they start to lose respect for the –

This circular thinking went on for what seemed like hours. In reality, it was probably more like 10 minutes or so. All the while, my eyes were on my book, my ears on maximum alert, waiting for that next…


I move several tissue boxes to empty desktops around the room – silent and non-confrontational, but hopefully not TOO subtle. I notice several taking advantage. Thank god.

Teenagers are weird. 

I think my favorite freshman talisman, though, is The Paper Wave. It works like this:

Paper Wave OneA student – sometimes with an ally or two, sometimes not – is off-topic and talking or otherwise creating sounds they should not be creating. (There are plenty of opportunities to be active and engaged and rowdy and such in my class, but at other times that the opposite is necessary.) In the most egregious examples, animated conversations are being propagated right up to the point I manage to get their attention by calling their name(s) or throwing small objects at them.

“But- but- but-” (I always know it’s coming) “I WASN’T EVEN TALKING!” 

The indignation is real. The outrage is subdued but genuine. Even when I’ve had to try several times just to get their attention because they’re so engaged in their off-topic conversation, my little darlings are both hurt and offended that I’d even suggest they were doing exactly what they were doing until I interrupted. 

And they’re not even in trouble – I’m just redirecting.

When their protests gain them little beyond soft mockery, they pull out what in THEIR worlds is THE ultimate trump card – the unshakeable proof of their righteousness. After a few frantic seconds digging around to find whatever it is they were supposed to be working on, they do it. 

They do the paper wave.

Paper Wave Two“See?! SEEEEEE?!?!?!!” it says – “I have a piece of paper in my hands and I am WAVING it! WAVING IT VIGOROUSLY! Clearly this would not be possible had I been engaging in the sorts of shenanigans you so cruelly and unfairly suggest! Ha! WAVE it I do! WAVE! WAVE!”

They need not say the words themselves, of course – it’s all in the wildly flapping paper and their set little faces.

It would be annoying if it weren’t so adorable. They’re not being defiant so much as delusional; at the moment they spin around and begin grabbing at half-finished scribbles, they BELIEVE every word they’re saying, spoken or no. 

Because teenagers are weird. 

I suppose they come by it honestly. My grades are divided into three equal categories – Show Up/Turn It In, Content Knowledge, and Skills. Full explanations are on the class website and in the syllabus, in case the titles aren’t clear enough. From a parent email just last week:

“What can ____ do to improve his grade in the ‘Show Up/Turn It In’ category?”

Apple. Falling. Tree.

Teenagers are weird. 

Apple. Falling. Tree.

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I LOVE your categories. I think we could trade stories for centuries. Regarding your Show up/Turn it in category: I think I'd get some parent emails complaining about THAT one. Today I walked out on my 11th graders because nobody was contributing to the discussion ( because if I'm the only one talking it's called a lecture---LOL ). When I returned a few moments later they were wide-eyed and eager. Had full participation the rest of the period.


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