Stephen Sutton: Inspirational But Not Alone

People all over Britain and indeed the world quite rightly morn the passing of Stephen Sutton, May 14th 2014. The young man, aged just 19, who proved so inspirational that in the last few months of his life he managed to raise over £3 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

For me, Stephen is just a brilliant example of what I know only too well but what society and the media often choose to forget. Young people, quite simply, are some of the most generous, kind, caring and imaginative people you will ever meet. Not all can raise millions of pounds for charity and not all find themselves in the spotlight like Stephen quite rightly did. All, however, have something wonderful to share with the world and this they do on a daily basis.

Those who do not spend extended amounts of time amongst large numbers of young people could so easily believe their media image: ASBOs, comatosed on the street from alcohol, sleeping around, being rude to older people, refused to give up a seat on the bus for somebody who needs it.

Those of us that do spend the majority of our day with young people know that the image the media portrays is inaccurate. Every student I have ever taught has something wonderful to offer to the world and they do it everyday. Young people are growing up and learning who they are, learning what the boundaries are – so yes, sometimes they get things wrong, overall however they are truly amazing people.

The child who strives to do well in their GCSEs despite having no real support at home, their sheer determination to do well is admirable. The student who spots you carrying a pile of books and offers to take some back to your classroom for you – their only motivation: to be helpful. The student who is a full-time carer at home but is not afraid to say they need help. The child who faces ill health and still supports their friends when they need them. The child who writes a Christmas card for a teacher that makes the teacher feel that is why they are in education that happens to come on the very day when the teacher is wondering if they have the strength to keep doing it. The child who every day for a week bakes cakes at home and then sells them the next day for charity. The child who realises their mother is having an epileptic fit and remembered what she’d been told to do in the event and saves her mother’s life. All of these are examples from my own experiences.

All of these young people are aspirational – they all do something everyday that is never reported in the media. It is a side of young people that it is all too easy to not notice or forget.

Yet you still say what about those kids who do horrible things to older people or get drunk and profane on a Friday night? What about those kids who are rude and abusive to teachers? What about those children who bully others? For me these are the children who often deserve the most admiration.

Find these children alone, where they don’t feel the need to be the big man, where they feel safe and behind their anger, frustration, worry and confusion these children too are inspirational. You do not become a ‘difficult’ child unless you come from a difficult background. Yes some kids very sadly slip through the system without anyone really being able to help but oh so many show such bravery in trying to change themselves.

I have taught so many children who have tried to be rude and abusive to me – once they saw that I wasn’t going to give up on them, that I believed in them and respected them, many slowly, very slowly started to come around. The courage it takes to go from being a child who is infamous for disturbing lessons, to a child who tries their best, is all too often forgotten.

So Stephen represents the pinnacle of what young people can achieve. I believe however it is important to remember the little heroes who walk around all day with the reputation developed by the media and those who listen only to soundbites hanging over their head.

I believe our future will be in safe hands for all teachers see the wealth of positive futures developing each day in front of our eyes.

See also my other blog about my experiences as an M.E. patient – What Will Happen to M.E.?

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About Karen Ironside

I have had some incredible opportunities in life. Although born in Ireland, I moved to London when I was 18. At 23 I moved to Poland where I stayed for just under 5 years. During this time I was lucky enough to get the chance to really get to know Poland and to be adopted by a Polish family. I then returned to England, where I trained to be a teacher. Not long after I met the man who was to become my husband. We moved a lot as he was in the army, when he left we moved to Stratford upon Avon (where Shakespeare is from). Until moving to India, I had been a Head of English for the last 6 years in two middle schools. During this time, I became incredibly ill having been misdiagnosed when I had a totally treatable illness. Consequently, I was lucky not to die. This year of ill-health gave me the time to reflect on who I was and what I wanted from my life. So, when the opportunity to move to India came up not long after I was properly diagnosed - how could we turn it down? My husband now works for a UK car company and we live in Pune. We will be here for at least 3 years having arrived May 2015. I teach once a week in a very rural high school outside of Pune. It is some of the most challenging teaching of my life but also some of the most rewarding. I started writing a blog a few months after I became ill. Both as a means of informing friends and family about what was going on and in hindsight as a means of helping me process the new reality I found myself in. I continue to write for the same reason.
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