Are they just not that into you? Try these helpful classroom tips. Teaching teens is a seriously tricky business. Taking command of a high school classroom can easily feel like telling jokes into a dead mic. Is this thing on?But engaging our secondary students has never been so critical. In 2013,Sep 22, 2015
Are they just not that into you? Try these helpful classroom tips.
Teaching teens is a seriously tricky business. Taking command of a high school classroom can easily feel like telling jokes into a dead mic. Is this thing on?
But engaging our secondary students has never been so critical. In 2013, Arizona’s high school dropout rate ranked the highest in the United States. Today’s secondary educators face the daunting task of engaging an audience of seemingly disengaged young adults.
The silver lining? Believe it or not, high schoolers really do want your guidance. Really. Here are some top tips for making genuine connections with your teen students.
1. Know your audience — well. The best advice I got as a first-year teacher was to “look with intent” at my high school students every day. This meant not just scanning the room for under-the-desk nvarchar(max)ing and dress code violations, but intentionally evaluating body language and the well-being of my students.
Teens lead stressful lives today more than ever. Take interest in their daily lives, and do a little investigating when something seems off. Puffy eyes and dozing off might mean that student is spending his wee morning hours on his PlayStation, but it may also mean he’s working late hours to help pay family bills. Either situation needs to be appropriately addressed and possibly accommodated for.
As a whole, it’s vital to know your audience so that you can shape what you’re teaching for your students. The best educators inspire their students by tailoring content to enhance and challenge individual learners. When you get to know your students’ unique academic needs and personalities, you’ll be equipped to design riveting lessons.
2. Be an outlet for self-expression. No matter what you teach, you probably understand that teenaged students have the uncanny ability to make it all about themselves. At this stage of their emotional development, a teenager is generally the center of his or her own universe. Take advantage of this! You might be surprised by how easily teens are willing to open up about themselves, what they think, their likes and dislikes, etc. Allow students to gain critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills by using your curriculum as a medium for self-discussion and expression.
3. Don’t be their friend. Be consistent and fair with your classroom management. You won’t earn your teens’ respect by chumming around in their comfort zone. Teen learners value knowing what behavior is expected of them, and they appreciate you defending their right to learn by creating a safe environment. This means towing the line, despite the groaning audience. So while you should definitely be friendly — as in approachable — keep in mind that you are a mentor with their best interest in mind, not a friend who will dismiss negative behaviors or cut them slack for the sake of being liked.
While we’re at it, don’t be a teen chameleon. We all had one of these teachers. “Yo, dudes. What’s the 411?” Cringe. Even though Arizona teachers are a young bunch, adolescents can spot a phony a mile away. They know when you’re not being true to yourself. So don’t change the way you dress or talk in order to appeal to them — you’ll end up looking silly and at the butt of their jokes. Be confident in who you are, and you’ll be a model for success. Besides — that favorite sweater you’re rocking? So vintage.
4. Keep it fresh. Teens suffer from a rap sheet of bad stereotypes. Not all teens are hormonal time bombs ticking down to an unproductive, loud explosion — in fact, I’d argue that I have yet to meet a teen student that fits that mold. Instead, I’ve found that some of their most common attributes include passion, loyalty and independence. One thorny trait they do seem to commonly possess? A short attention span.
One way to combat this is by frequently varying your teaching dynamic. A good rule of thumb is to try not to spend more than 10 to 15 minutes on one task. For instance, following a PowerPoint for an entire 45-minute period is sure-fire way of mummifying your kids’ minds. Keep your students guessing what’s next. Try 10 minutes of lecture, followed by a five-minute YouTube clip, then several minutes of independent work, ending with a group discussion.
Remember to make time for play. Foster a love for learning by incorporating games, physical activities, coloring — heck, even stickers. Just because many of them are taller than you doesn’t mean that teens don’t like to embrace their inner kindergartner. They’ll welcome the change of focus and pace.
Lastly, stay up to date with technology. Whether you like it or not, teens are constantly bombarded with new, exciting technologies. This is the world they know, and truth be told, they don’t respond well to luddites. Make a commitment to try new devices and apps. Technical difficulties? My money’s on one (or half) of your students knowing how to fix the problem.
When it comes to teenage learners, if you make it fun and keep your expectations high, you’ll set the tone for high achievement.
Have your own tips for teaching teens? Feel free to share in the comments.
Heather Sparks is a writer, educator, and mom of two. An Arizona native, she holds a bachelor's degree in secondary education and a master's degree in gifted education from Arizona State University.