I LOVE working with teenagers. Despite the challenges, it is amazing to see them grow as people.
They are generally open and willing to listen to another viewpoint.
They are passionate about issues that impact them. One of my classes is working on essay writing and I wanted them to write about a Teen Issue – drinking age, voting age, driving age, military service, the dress code at school, etc. Several of them were quite outraged about registering for the draft. They couldn’t believe that only males had to register. It is interesting to note that they didn’t know that they needed to register at 18. It was an eye-opening conversation for them and the outrage was genuine. (As a side note, when these discussions occur, I generally do not take one side or the other. I try to present the ideas of both sides and refuse tell the kids which side I am on – until sometime after the discussion.)
They have “light-bulb” moments. For example, I told the kids at the beginning of the year (after I read their writing assessments – which were horrid) that I was going to teach them to write an essay. I explained to them that essay writing had a formula and that once they learned that formula they would be able to write essays. I started by teaching them to write a paragraph – topic sentence, detail, detail, detail, concluding sentence. And I explained that in a topic sentence you “told the reader what you were going to tell them about” and that the concluding sentence told the reader “what you told them about.” They laughed about it, but I explained that I made it “silly” so they would remember it. It took a few class periods, but they got it and started using the terms “topic sentence” and “concluding sentence.” Here is where the light-bulb moment occurred – I taught them that an essay is composed of an Introduction Paragraph, Detail, Detail, Detail and then the Concluding Paragraph. I wrote it on the board next to the construction of a paragraph. I asked them if it looked familiar and they GOT IT! They figured out that a paragraph was 5 sentences and an essay was 5 paragraphs! If anyone ever taught this to them before, they didn’t get it. But they’ve got it now. Currently this class is working on writing an Introduction Paragraph – and the connection is being made that they put the three “details” in the concluding sentence of the introduction and those are what they write about in the next three paragraphs. This is WHY I became a TEACHER.
Side Note – I know that this is a simplistic explanation of essay writing. But these kids will have the foundation of essay writing and we will be able to expand from there. Prior to their light-bulb moment, they tried really hard to write an essay, but it was obvious that they didn’t understand the construction.
They are compassionate. Last week I was feeling miserable. At the beginning of the day I didn’t feel well, but by the time I had to teach my afternoon class, I was losing my voice and felt awful. The kids were so funny. Several offered to teach for me, they repeated my directions for their classmates who didn’t hear me, and they worked to help each other when they had questions so they didn’t have to “bother” me. At one point my class got a little loud and a couple of the kids “yelled” at their classmates, “Mrs. James doesn’t feel good. Quiet down.”
They are deciding who they want to be. This is the amazing thing about working with teenagers! One of the students on my caseload is going to be a dad. I wrote about teen pregnancy as a challenge, but here is the flip side – this young man has totally turned his life around because he knows he needs to get it together. I can’t go into specifics (it is confidential) but I can tell you that last year, I was told this kid was a “lost cause.” I tried to meet with him and he wasn’t interested in anything that I could offer him as his case manager. However, this year is a whole different story. He has been in to get my help and he has been in just to chat. He knows that because he is doing the “work” that he has my full support and that I will be in his corner fighting for him. He is actually on his way to becoming a role model for other teens. I could not be prouder of him. He also knows that I expect he will continue to make mistakes (he is a TEENAGER), but as long as he is working hard to do the right thing, I’m there for him. A couple of weeks ago I gave him a hand-written note telling him that he was doing a great job, that I noticed and that he should be proud. He just glowed. I don’t know that anyone ever told him that he was doing a great job.
My students from last year come to visit my classroom. One of my joys is that my students want to come to talk to me. (They like me. They really, really like me.) They want to tell me about how English is going this year and how things in their lives are going. It is awesome to realize that in 1 semester I managed to have an impact on their lives. I know that I won’t “save” all of the kids who need saving. I know that there will be kids that don’t like me, but to think that I made even the slightest positive contribution to their lives takes my breath away.
They are learning that their actions have an impact on others. I have one very difficult class. Believe it or not, there are only 5 students in this class. One student is quiet and doesn’t cause any trouble, leaving 4 students to have me frustrated beyond belief. I have used almost every tool in my “teaching toolbox” to manage this class to no avail. This past week they were so awful, I was nearly in tears. I hate being a “mean” teacher. It isn’t who I am and leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. But, these kids need a strict teacher and so I put on that persona and fight the feelings of nausea. They knew I was mad. I don’t usually yell when I am mad and I didn’t this day. My voice got really quiet and I told them that the rules in my class were changing. I would not tolerate talking over me or rude behavior (not that I tolerated it before – but sometimes kids don’t realize they are being rude, so I try to give them the benefit of the doubt). I told them that I would be writing them up and giving them homework and that we would no longer be doing “fun” activities in class. I explained that it was more work for me – to figure out how to make it interesting and fun – and I was no longer willing to do the work, since they were not cooperating. I told them that I didn’t treat them disrespectfully and I didn’t deserve for them to treat me that way; I didn’t deserve that they were making my job excruciatingly difficult. Finally, right before I had them sit silently for 10 minutes, I told them that I deserved an apology. I was not going to force them to write me an apology letter because I didn’t want lip-service, but I deserved one from each of them. (Side note – the quiet student was sent to another classroom to do homework because she wasn’t part of the problem). Obviously, this was a challenge and not a joy. But the joy came. One student walked into class and handed me a note. It was nearly a full-page handwritten. It was heart-felt and thanked me for being a great teacher and apologized for being difficult and disrespectful. It was a joy. One out of four – 25% – I had hoped for more, but I would take what I got and hope that I was able to reach that one student.