When adults talk about adolescents, it seems at times that they mean some species that are totally different from human beings. Let us look at a few factors which may come in useful in dealing with teenagers.
High school pupils may look quite grown up, they may tower over us teachers. Young men may sprout beards and develop deep bass voices; young girls may look like fully grown women, they may dress up, use a lot of make-up, and speak like characters from Desperate Housewives. Yet if we look closer, we will see the way those boys/men move, with a swagger but not too confidently nor always in a well-coordinated fashion. Girls/women are not always sure of the appropriate way to wear an item of clothing, nor can they gauge the exact amount of “war paint” correctly. In fact, no matter how they look, they are still children. Minors. Underage.
For us EL teachers, it means that any technique, any gimmick we have at our disposal for coping with children in general may be fine for using with teens.
Ah, those famous mood swings, the hormonal imbalance, the passions! After witnessing yet another outburst, adults may even wonder if those creatures are human. It is important to remember that indeed, they are human beings. In fact, in a few years they will more or less turn into us. How old is young, in teen-speak? They may mention that a teacher is young, which will probably mean a beginner, someone under 25. It is vital to realize that for them, any teacher, even one who is maybe 21 years old, is an adult, thus a person “from a different camp”. A good working relationship with a class does not mean that a friendly teacher is regarded as a friend. It is not dependent on age, since any pupil may have relatives and friends who are well over the age of 21, but rather on the position we occupy.
There are things which children do which we teachers cannot and should not do. Any child may have a temper tantrum; they may burst into tears, throw their books on the floor, verbally insult or even fight with their classmates. They may also show their affection for us by blurting out any news or terms of endearment, and even rush at us with arms open for a hug.
We cannot afford to descend to the same level: no fits, no yelling, no dumping our bad news on them. I would deflect those extra-emotional attempts at hugs in the classroom, too. Besides other considerations, a fully-grown teenager may drop you down or hurt you unintentionally. Let us remember that whatever happens, we come into the classroom to teach our subject. We are the responsible adults.
We have to cope with lots of problems which are not listed in any curriculum, and we can do it.
I believe that all the children can be taught. If you get a class of teenagers who are seemingly not interested in your subject, there are two broad approaches open to you which work well together. One, rather than delivering lectures on how necessary English is for their future life, collect examples which demonstrate that it is indeed true, and insert them into every topic. I have just observed, not for the first time, how lost some tourists were when during a hotel breakfast they were asked a very simple question, “Tea or coffee?” and they could not understand it, nor could they reply. Such a simple instance will make any teenager think about the way they may appear to other people. Two, it always pays to learn what interests this or that child. We can teach any difficult topic by inserting various relevant data, be it fashion, celebrities, music, sports or cars. All adolescents are immensely fascinated by any information about their age group. For example, if the noise level becomes too high, I tell them mildly that according to world statistics, 85% of children say that they come to school not for knowledge but for communication with their peers. This one fact grabs their attention at once. Surprisingly, it is easy to start role playing around this number!
In my country, the academic year starts universally on September 1, be it kindergarten, school or university. If I have new classes or new groups of teachers to face, I get the usual flutters in my stomach. It takes an effort to open that door and simply to come in to the room full of strangers. I still remember the stage fright I had had right before my very first lecture. The trick is not to show it. I trained in front of a mirror, and later with my own family members. What does a young teacher do? Any relaxation technique is fine. Knowing that others experience the same feelings helps, too. If children ask me how I manage to be so “cool”, so sure of myself, I do tell them that I am very nervous and anxious right before the beginning of every new school year. Honesty is the best policy.
We do not have to tell the children everything, but it pays not to lie when asked a direct question.
Nina MK, Ph.D.