Being a teenager is rough. There is very little that is easy about that time in our lives, and school should be a warm and welcoming place where teenagers feel like they can be themselves and grow into the adults they so desire to be. So, how do we harbor and create such an environment for them? How do we help inspire them and develop an appetite for knowledge and learning? Well, it all starts with caring.
From my first year of teaching, one thing stood out to me; if you take the time to develop a relationship with your students, show them that you do truly care, it will make a world of difference in and out of your classroom. Whether sixth or 12th graders, it makes no difference, your relationship with them serves as the solid foundation for everything they can gain and learn in your class. I found that when I took the time to ask about a student’s sister who had been sick or sat on the sidelines and cheered them on at their soccer game, they were more interactive and receptive to what I was teaching. But, the relationship could not only be one-sided. I had to open up about myself and show them who I was as well. Then, and only then, was the trust established and did they respect me enough to want to learn from me, to want to accept what I so wanted to give them.
I also found that it was very important to present a united front for them. Making parent/guardian contact early on was oh-so vital. They needed, and wanted (even if they wouldn’t admit it) to know that they had all of us on their side; that, no matter what, we were on their team and would go to bat for them each and every time. Whether this meant celebrating successes or working together on motivation, teachers and parents working together for the good of the student is a key component in making sure teenagers are getting what they need inside and outside of the classroom.
I have found that if you set expectations high, and have established that connection and relationship with your students, they will rise to the challenge. They will even surprise themselves sometimes. I always set the bar in my classroom high; not out of reach, but high enough to take them out of their comfort zones and show them what they are really capable of. This makes them want to succeed and do even more. In the end, they walk away with such a sense of accomplishment and a step up, or two, in their self-esteem.
Lastly, if you talk to any of my students, one of the first things they will tell you is that I LOVE what I teach. And I truly do! I get so very excited about mythology and can’t wait to cover our nation’s independence and play my absolute favorite music video that goes along with it. They can see, hear, and feel my enthusiasm every single class period. This matters. When they see that I love what I am teaching them and put my heart and soul into making it fun, and lively, and applicable, they can’t help but smile and look forward to learning it as well. Enthusiasm is contagious!
Of course, there are times when teachers do all of this and go above and beyond, but are still unable to reach some students or help them succeed. We, as educators, have to understand that teenagers now are faced with so many more challenges and obstacles than we did when we were their age (no matter how young or old you are now).
Today’s teenagers are dealing with a multitude of issues that stem from the ever-changing world around them, as well as the physical and emotional transition of adolescence. There is so much that they must battle and face each day, along with the fact that they need to complete their school work.
We, as parents and teachers, need to be cognizant of the fact that these students are not adults yet. They are undergoing drastic physical and emotional changes that affect them day in and day out. Something that seems rather minor to us can shake their whole world and leave them feeling completely overwhelmed and lost. This is why the relationships we form with them are so very important. If a teachers knows their students, they will know when something is off or something is wrong. Instead of forcing them to read that scene in Romeo and Juliet in class today, teachers can consider stepping outside to let them talk it out, cry, or just be. Sometimes all they need is to know that you are there. That’s it. Sometimes it’s that simple.
What I have learned as a middle and high school teacher that while I can have high expectations and push my students to focus on class and do the work, if they are not there mentally and have outside pressures they are trying to cope with, very little is going to make them get it done right now. Let them breathe, listen to them, and be an unbiased voice of wisdom and support for them. Continue to hold them accountable. Remind them that even though life may be hard right now, that they can control how well they do or don’t do at school, and that taking ownership over that can only help and improve the other areas of their lives as well.
If you can do this, they will likely come back ready to get the work done and show you how much your support means to them!
Middle school or high school teachers, parents/guardians of teens, counselors, advisors, or someone in between, we must give teens our hearts. All will fall into place if everything you do stems from that!