Every good teacher understands that learning is dramatically more difficult when students feel disconnected from their instructors. Teachers and students need to form relationships based on mutual trust and understanding; only then will students be focused and receptive to new information.
Teens can be among the most difficult students to engage in a classroom setting. Here are a few tips to help new teachers form valuable connections with their teenage pupils.
Some kids absolutely idolize every adult they get to know — but most teens have left this behavior in the past. Few adolescents view their teachers as perfect, faultless superheroes; in fact, many eagerly look for mistakes in how a teacher communicates or behaves. Some teachers rail against this behavior from teens and strive to maintain credibility by rejecting any evidence of their flaws. Unfortunately, this performance only serves to alienate teens, who will write that teacher off as out-of-touch.
Instead, teachers should lean into their humanity and admit their flaws. It is inevitable that a teacher will make mistakes; honesty and openness about the experience is likely to win appreciation from teens for two reasons: It gives teenage students permission to make their own mistakes, and it demonstrates how a responsible and caring adult should respond to their personal errors.
Many teens are desperate to understand how adults think, feel and act, but many only have their parents as good examples of adulthood. Thus, teens tend to crave personal connection with other adults, and teachers can provide that connection — with reasonable boundaries. Teachers can develop deep relationships with their students by sharing information about their lives, to include hopes and dreams, disappointments, successes and sources of sadness. For example, a teacher might admit their goal of earning a master’s degree in education during the school year.
Personal connections to teachers can facilitate higher performance from teens. Not only will teens be less likely to slack off or cause disruptions in class, but they will become more interested in what teachers have to say. What’s more, teens may feel comfortable displaying vulnerability back to their teachers, which can give teachers greater insight into a teen’s attitude and behavior.
Children require adults to display authority, but teens crave equality and resent an authoritative demeanor from adults. Teachers should recognize that their teenage students are on the verge of adulthood; treating teens like children, expecting respect without giving an equal amount, is rude and likely to result in poor behavior in the classroom. Teachers can demonstrate respect to their teenage students by listening actively to what teens say, communicating clearly and courteously and allowing space for disagreement and alternate opinions.
All people enjoy play — even teens. Though most teens are eager for adult responsibilities, many miss the freedom and joy of childhood. Integrating games into lesson plans is a good way to allow teenage students to have fun with their studies, which in turn helps them engage with course materials and retain information easier and more effectively. Not every classroom activity needs to involve play, but teachers should try to rely on games as often as they can.
There is nothing a teen enjoys less than a course that is too easy. Teenage students quickly and eagerly disengage from classes that do not require effort, and that disengagement will inevitably result in the dismissive attitude and disruptive behavior that is troublesome to teachers. Thus, teachers need to be sure to build their lesson plans to account for various level of challenge needed by different students in their classrooms.
Challenge does not necessarily mean increase the complexity of the material. Students tend to be strong in certain subject areas but weak in particular skills, so teachers can introduce challenge by requiring students to rely upon skills and knowledge they might not often train. For example, a teacher might challenge a math whiz by asking them to explain a formula to the class. Public speaking, group collaboration, creativity and other skills are usually easy to integrate into projects and add an extra layer of challenge.
Many teachers are intimidated by teenage students, but once teachers learn how to connect with teens, they can effortlessly engage and educate.
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