What and why?
Teachers’ views on the teaching of adolescents vary enormously. Some love it, and would not choose to teach any other age range. Probably almost as many, however, find it difficult, often more difficult the older the adolescent students become. The first important point to make, however, is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to generalize about ‘adolescence’. There is enormous variation in the nature of the adolescent period from individual to individual, and from culture to culture. In some cultures, children seem to remain ‘children’ longer; in others they appear to grow up very quickly. Some adolescents find the movement from being ‘a child’ to being ‘an adult’ a very troublesome one, whilst others do not experience any particular problems. What is clear is that during the period of adolescence, an individual’s sense of who they are may often go through many transformations. Bodily changes as well as rapid changes in opinions, tastes, habits and relations between the sexes may combine to give the impression that it is not one person that we are dealing with, but several!
Parents and teachers of adolescents often report that the period can place great strain on their relationships. Adolescents may be seeking independence and this may conflict with the views of the parents/teachers. As the time may be a period of great change for the adolescent, they may often seem restless – unsure if they are doing what they want to do or should be doing. They may also be anxious about the future: ‘What is to become of me?’, ‘What next?’, ‘Will I cope?’, ‘What will happen if …?’ All of these things may require great patience from everyone concerned.
Given that the period of adolescence is so changeable, it is difficult to offer clear advice about how to best handle the teaching of adolescents. There are, however, some general points which teachers have shared with us and which we have found useful.
Be patient. Things may take longer to achieve in the classroom than you anticipate. The students may seem tired or unwilling. Very often this is because of factors completely outside the classroom.
Be flexible. Conflicts can be avoided if the teacher is prepared to be flexible about when and how things are done. This may be a matter of tolerating classroom behavior that you don’t approve of, for example. However, you have to also make clear the limits of what you are prepared to accept.
Be sensitive. Teachers often report that adolescent students are frequently moody – they can be happy and bright one day and deflated the next day. As a teacher, it is important for you to keep note of these changes and, where necessary, talk to the student to see if they are having problems.
Allow choice and student decisions. It may also be useful if you can be flexible about what the students do. If you can provide them with choice and allow room for their personal interests, you are likely to find it much easier working with them. You can also involve them in decisions about what you will do in the lessons and ask them to plan activities, choose texts, music and so on.
Show respect. The students must have a clear sense of respect for you as the teacher, but equally you must have a sense of respect for them – recognizing, for example, that their opinions, tastes in clothes, music, etc. are equally valid. That said, your role is as an educator, so it should remain your responsibility to encourage students to question what they are saying or doing, and to ensure that limits are set and maintained for the benefit of everyone.