Are Teens Human?

Teaching teens
Are Teens Human? Nina MK, Ph.D. “Are they even human?!” my colleague expostulated after yet another disastrous lesson with her eighth graders. Not having children of her own, she could not see teenagers in any other light but dark. I remember one of my own school teachers bursting into tears in the classroom, sobbing out, “You are monsters!” She was in her first year of teaching, and she left in the middle of the term. Did I ever feel that frustration, did I ever wonder if teens are indeed human? Yes, with a very important difference. I grew up in a very large family, so I know that people come in all shapes and sizes, all temperaments and all talents, or lack thereof. Yet all of us, children and grandchildren, cousins, nephews and nieces, have always known that we were loved, respected and supported by our nearest and dearest. My grandmother was a school headmistress; some of my relatives were teachers at schools and universities. I came to teach at school with my three children in tow, nicely spaced so to speak: primary school, middle school and high school. Twelve years of prior lecturing at university were vastly different from working with children, but they helped me to cope. Reading professional literature, as well as reading fiction for pleasure, is a must for me. Here is a nice quote from Agatha Christie which defines my own approach to pedagogical problems quite well. “You can’t do anything with children, can you?” a mother says indulgently, watching her children misbehave. Poirot rather thought you could, but refrained from saying so. I also rather think you can do a lot with children, and I tell my colleagues so at teacher training/professional development courses. I even go so far as to give an affirmative answer to that question each time I hear it: Yes, teenagers are in fact human. They are not a separate species; they require innovative approaches not only to teaching but to communication in general. They seem to change too fast. In spring when we said good-bye to our class of twelve-year-olds, they were nice and quiet. In autumn, when they come back from the summer vacation, many of them extremely adult at the mature age of thirteen, they look and act differently. Many of them get a growth spurt and are now taller than we are; some of them are still waiting for that growth (which may never come). A few flow into this half-adulthood naturally, others are very awkward. This is all part of the natural process; all of us went through it a few or many years ago. They want to be treated differently, yet we have the same national curriculum to adhere to, the same 45-50 minute periods between breaks, the same exercises to perform, the same home-work. What can we change? Adolescents come to school early because they want to socialize, to talk, to send and receive messages. They desperately want to be the same as their peers yet to be individual, unique. Their moods swing, their hormones act up. It is hard to sit still for the whole lesson, unless we make the lesson fascinating, unexpected, and special. Each lesson. • We can turn any topic towards their interests. Healthy Way of Life? Let us divide the class into two teams and work out the Pros and Cons. “Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal of the Day” vs. “Let Us Abolish Breakfast!”, for instance. Gym classes vs. aerobics or dance sessions. • We can contact a colleague from another country and arrange an email exchange or co-operation on a project. Thanks to ICT, the opportunities are endless. I conducted a very nice email exchange with my partner from Australia, when our classes compared the range of subjects and the level of problem solving in mathematics. • We can look at our classes attentively and try to figure out what each pupil’s interest may be, and then show them how English will be useful in any profession and occupation. Somebody wants to be a bus driver or a nurse, and they want to know why exactly they should spend their time on those grammar exercises? Ask them if they have ever seen tourists, visitors to their home town. Give them a few examples of how a person may need help in a strange country. • There is always music, films, arts, and whatever else interests your teens. Do they want to be able to actually hear the words of a song their favourite singer performs? Would they like to understand what their current idol says in a film? Do they want to check some odd and funny news or videos on youtube? We may show them how to expand their horizons and open up windows into the world. • Bullies and bullying exist. We adults cannot always understand why this or that child is bullied, but we should try to help when we notice any such situation. What I found helpful: there are numerous sites, projects and publications on bullying. Bullies are essentially cowards; they fear exposure. Once we show them how much is known about them, they may stop. • Last but not least, there are children whose behaviour and/or abilities seriously deviate from what is considered “the norm”. One such pupil in any class may wind up the rest. Crowd mentality is a fact of life, and it demonstrates itself among teenagers to perfection. If you are up against any such situation, seek help at once. • All children need our support, help and guidance. All teachers need a lot of patience, acceptance and understanding. It is OK to feel discouraged at times and challenged at alltimes. We are also human. •
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