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.
Adult Behaviors That Decrease Student MisbehaviorAdults who work with confrontational students must have the capacity for patience, self-control, and self-coaching. Responding to this type of student requires forethought and planning.
De-escalating a confrontation can be accomplished in several ways. Each of the following suggestions requires tremendous desire on the part of the teacher for maintaining his or her own control and understanding that the student needs to save face.
- Speak calmly throughout the interaction.
- Keep the focus on the desired behavior of learning or work completion. For example, you could say, “Sounds like we have an issue to discuss. Let’s do so right after class. For now, can you get back to the report?”
- Use self-directed humor or self-admonishment: “Why didn’t I think of that? You’d think after ten years of teaching, I would’ve thought about this coming up!”
- Listen actively and acknowledge the student’s concerns: “Seems as though you are really angry. Let me think about it for today, and we’ll talk about it at another time.”
- Try the broken record approach—communication through a nonconfrontational voice and body language: “Please return to your chair and get back to work.”
Teachers will be able to use these strategies only if they rehearse them, at least mentally. Practice time through role-play can be given during faculty meetings.
Teachers, now that your school year is winding down to a close, here are a few tips to close, organize, evaluate and hopefully pre-plan for next Fall. These tips were contributed by Emma McDonald, co-author of Survival Kit for New Teachers.
At the end of the year I always take some time to go through my files to determine what I have not used during the year. I force myself to make the decision either to archive it OR to throw it away. I think this is a vital exercise for teachers, who like myself, tend to keep everything. This only leads to overcrowded filing cabinets. I always keep extra copies of assignments, handouts, etc.. However, I find that the next year I make more copies and file them in a new place. In effect, this doubles my files and makes it harder to find anything the next year. For teachers who like to stay organized, I suggest the following:
1) Organize all resources, reproducible pages, handouts, etc. by subject area or topic into large 3 ring binders. Use tab dividers to further organize by concepts and/or skills taught. This allows a teacher to quickly find materials for a particular unit without having to wade through thousands of manila folders in the filing cabinet. I keep a master copy in the binder and make enough copies for each student. Leftover sheets are kept in case students lose their copy or a parent needs an extra copy at home. At the end of the year I recycle all of my left over handouts since I know I’ll be making new copies the next school year.
2) Some teachers teach the same units each year. I suggest that lesson plans and handouts are filed by unit into three-ring binders. When planning over the summer, use these binders to refine lessons without needing the entire filing cabinet. That way the unit is ready to go for next year and the handouts are right where they need to be…easy to find and use.
3) Go through any student work you’ve kept. Laminate everything you can so that it will last year after year!
4) If you keep a reading corner, have a stellar student look through the books for inappropriate drawings, markings, or other graffiti. Place these books aside to look at and possibly fix over the summer. Now you won’t have students next year coming to you with remarks about your books. This will also save you from embarrassing moments with parents who like to preview books read by their children!
Finally…The end of the year is almost here. It seems that for many students (and teachers as well), the only desired lessons are those taking place in a swimming pool. But there are certain steps you can take now to prevent the end of the year from meaning the end of learning. Think in terms of: play, plan, and complete.
First, don’t be afraid to play! Everyone is ready for a break, so it will take more energy for you to keep your classroom under control during lectures and for students to stay focused. Integrate more “fun” into your lessons to give the learning process a change of pace. For example, instead of having a quiz, test your students knowledge in a “quiz show” format. Split the children into two or three teams to compete against each other for points. They receive points by answering the questions correctly. You don’t even need to come up with the questions. Students do an excellent job of covering a subject matter if you ask them each to submit three questions on the topic they just learned. Some of the pressure is taken off of you, and your students, while your goals are still being accomplished. Here are some additional ideas:
- Give your class a fresh perspective; teach your class outdoors, in the library, or even in a school bus.
- Bring in guest speakers.
- Parents are a valuable resource; let them talk to your class.
- Introduce new media to your class
- Be your own guest speaker by dressing up as someone else.
- Have your children teach the class.
Second, remember to plan ahead for the deconstruction of your room. Everything you have put up in your room this year probably needs to be taken down. You don’t need to wait for the students to be out of the building before some of your work can begin. In fact, your students are a great resource to you. For as much disdain as they show for doing their assignments, they will show even more enthusiasm for helping you with your housekeeping and organizational tasks. One of the first things to come off your walls can be student work. This will also save pupils from having three armfuls of items to lug home on the last day of school. After that, bulletin boards outside of the classroom can come down. When removing decorations that will be used in future years (can you safely say that any of them won’t be?), the key is to organize. The last thing you want to do is haphazardly throw everything in a box that will be ignored for years and eventually thrown away because you don’t want to go through it all. The time spent to put letters and borders in a folder sufficiently labeled will be invaluable when you want to find your pre made bulletin board in later years. Here are some more ideas:
- Drop any committees whose meetings you continually dread.
- Look around for ideas for next year. If you think of great ideas, make a list and put it on top of one of your boxes.
- Don’t forget about uncompleted committee work.
- Set a date to start coming up with ideas for next fall.
- Actually dedicate a time to plan, even if that means setting aside the first half hour of each day. This will greatly reduce stress.
It is inevitable that the school year will come to a close. However that does not mean everything will be complete on its own. Bringing a sense of closure for yourself as well as your pupils at the end of the year is important. This is when students begin to count down the minutes till their last day, and teachers wonder how on earth they will be able to get everything accomplished. But don’t panic. If you get the planning done, a lot of the completion will follow. Be realistic; realize that your students can easily go into information overload (or, rather, attention-span underload) as the summer nears. And for the things you don’t get done beforehand, give your full attention to after school is out. Even with the students gone, there are numerous other distractions. Try not to get sidetracked with garrulous teachers who have already finished. And save the files and folders to clean out until you come back in the fall. Your energy level will be up, and your spirits will be high. A lot of satisfactory closure comes from the little touches, like these ideas:
- Write a thank you note to the staff and post it in the teacher’s lounge.
- Don’t forget those who have especially helped out this year. Show your gratitude with a nice note or small gift.
- Give out awards of accomplishment for having successfully completed the year.
- Meet with your closer staff friends after the close of the school year to allow everyone to unwind on informal grounds.
- Make a list of things you feel good about accomplishing this year.
- Remember to say goodbye to those who are leaving and hello to those who may be new to the school.
You know the end of the year is coming; there’s no excuse for letting it sneak up on you. With some playing and planning, this period will come with ease.
PBS Teachers is a great resource for all teachers. They have lessons, interactive on-line activities, links to useful web sites, and recommended books. The resources are divided into the following categories so there is something for everyone!
- Health and Fitness
- Social Studies
- Language Arts / Reading
- Science / Technology
Check it out!