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How to accept & support today's youth culture

Posted by Elaine Thomas on Thursday, 1 November 2018
Elaine Thomas
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Long gone are the days when teachers were the main source of inspiration for their students. We, like most parents are now competing with bredrin, links, vloggers, boxsets and fortnite.

Advisory note: Common words used by young people in italic.

As an outsider to this amazing ‘world of gumball youthfulness’; until you have been ‘pree’d’ by some of your students, you stand on a very thin line where you may be seen as either legit or waste, calm or an opp.

We, mentors understand how hard it is to forge relationships with students who frankly, are not interested in you, school or even worse themselves or their futures. This is especially the case when you see that that student has potential and could get the grades; if only they tried a little harder and gave themselves a chance.

Some teachers may get along with these students, whilst others have simply learnt to ‘stay in their lane’; waiting strategically for the right moment to prove themselves as the students' trusted ally.

And these teachers are right to act strategically in this situation, for ‘desperately seeking to help’ teachers tend not to get nowhere fast, especially with the most disengaged.

Unfortunately, you are competing with an outside world that is aggressive, where in order to survive, some of your students have to have their back-up and be ready for anything; especially when defending themselves from pagans or opps.

We mentors are not as defensive and do not see all teachers as pagans. As such, I would like to share some points you can engage all your students with; prioritising those who have been deemed as a ‘menace to society’ or at least for now, a menace to the school grounds.

Advisory note: I am about to get ‘real’ so we can all pattern (up).


This is the most important point ‘I’ would like you to remember. Every student deserves a chance to stay within the safety of a school, built to nurture and develop its beneficiaries, until they are 16 and ready for college, sixth form or an apprenticeship.



Finding fault in a student leads to giving up on a student and ultimately hands them over to the evil mindset of street gang culture. A devastating lifestyle that currently has too much power within our schools’ extended community.

Whether your students are excluded or not, they will experience street culture’s force if you or the school gives up on them! Please, I am begging you, do not allow any of your students to feel as though you or the school finds fault in them.

Boy head in hands


If you find yourself having scornful or malicious thoughts about a student (be honest now), STOP yourself from letting those thoughts manifest into words, actions or further thoughts.

(Advisory note: I am about to get really ‘real’)

As soon as you allow these very human and very real thoughts to develop into something more, that student
automatically becomes ‘vulnerable’ and ‘at risk’.

Although you may think that student A who disturbs 30 in a class should be sent to study elsewhere in the school or that student B would be better off in an alternative provision, in my 15 year’s experience as a mentor, when that one student is stabbed in the heart (due to known or unknown months of gang involvement, that was encouraged by a negative relationship with a safe place called ‘school’); it disturbs much much more than 30 students in a class.

The result is trauma and the creation of mental scars that will may never heal.

Reflect and think strategically. Beat the inner and outer enemy, hindering our most vulnerable students’ progression.



Gang culture is highly organised, with clear boundaries, duties, responsibilities, reward systems and consequences. For a student that is competitive and wants to pattern up; (despite lacking encouragement or an opportunity to do well and succeed) the sense of community, belonging and loyalty street gangs offer, make this ‘network’ the ultimate place to be.

The benefits of street life now become their main influence. 
If gangs have developed the ‘perfect community structure’ for students aged 8 - 16 years old, surely, we educators, with degrees, masters and PhD’s must be able to, too!

Is your gang prevention policy a working document? Has it been developed in collaboration with gang and youth engagement experts and or alongside your students? Have your gang prevention procedures been implemented across all departments? Are they monitored and reviewed on a regular basis?


Emotional girl


Make your boundaries clear and get creative with them. Staying within the school policies and procedures, set your own code of conduct for your classroom and ensure everyone sticks to it or face reasonable consequences that create an impact.

Your students will have some great ideas! Trust them (if you dare).  

Ensure the class is aware of your responsibilities in sticking to your word, and the code of conduct you have created together. If you fail, apologise, explain what happened and tell your class what you will do, to ensure you do not
violate the code of conduct again.

In fact, you could make a strategic mistake to model to your students, this human and very humble behaviour.

In addition, give your students both achievable and somewhat challenging responsibilities, with clear steps to progression and rewards that get you, the teacher and the leader excited.



Timetable into your scheme of work ‘Drop everything and reason’. Talk to your class. How are they? What’s going on for them all? What's the latest hype? song? Viral video or talk on the streets? What do they think about the latest news on SBTV or GRM daily.

Your students will appreciate your ‘realness’.


boys back to camera


Once in a while, set tasks and lessons that are more challenging than usual. Get an average, (could be your mother, brother or sister type) professional that's also a genius to come in to teach a section of the class (or arrange for the lesson to be done via video conferencing).

Encourage everyone (regardless of how they do in the lesson) that we succeed by trying or simply being there in the first place. Everyone should feel like they’ve achieved something.

Regardless of how low or high your students’ academic level, always have higher expectations.



Develop trust between you and your students. Tell them all that you trust them. Tell them you can see they are genuine and different (but in a good way).

Like a radio presenter speaking live to an audience, we soon forget they are speaking to thousands of listeners and feel like they are talking to us directly.

With passion I have purposely mentioned some uncomfortable issues that are or will soon, affect us all.

For the new, established or returnee teacher, I can not stress the importance of managing our thoughts and beliefs; our unconscious bias. Whether you like it or not, each of us has a duty of care to protect the well being of every student.

In your day to day teaching practice please remember that losing one for the sake of peace and quiet in the classroom, could lead to more people losing so much more.

As we approach the end of the year, thousands of people across London are mourning the loss of the 56 young people who lost their lives to street violence this year. Who knows as you read this, another life may have been taken.

There is no use in hiding the connection between education and gang involvement any longer. As an educator, I refuse too. Life and the our collective well being is too precious.

boy leaning against wall

These young people who lose their lives so early on in their journey could have been major contributors to our societies future. Instead they have been purged out, without a chance to truly prove their best selves and God-given abilities.

Let's remember, as educators we are now in a fight for a peaceful and prosperous world together. Some may say that we are not in a fight, that, what is taking place on our streets and behind closed doors, can easily be defined as acts of terrorism.

Others may say that we are ‘all’ soldiers fighting in a domestic war.

Whilst many may chose to ignore the screams, cries and painful loss the ‘other lot’ are experiencing; it is hoped that most will understand how a simple change of mindset and readjustment of thought patterns, can be more powerful than any pen, knife, gun or sword.


About our Community Expert 


Elaine Thomas
Community Expert

Director of The mentoring Lab, Elaine has over 15 years of experience in teaching, employment, mentoring, supporting learning and career progression.

Elaine is the Opogo community expert working with young people and adults to prevent underachievement in their learning or careers.

Topics: Education


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