Teaching is difficult. Those who think that teaching is an easy gig with a lot of holidays have never been alone in a classroom full of children or teenagers who they have to attempt to teach.
When I was assigned a high school this year I was nervous. I’ve never worked with this age group and I don’t have the slightest urge to. My place is in a kindergarten classroom, singing silly songs and using puppets. I am a firm, firm believer in early childhood education and the importance of the founding years that will shape the rest of my students’ lives. So, put in a high school where I teach ages 12-17 and where I am back in the world of hierarchy, social groups, outcasts, etc., and all the patience that I have for my five year olds vanishes.
This afternoon served as a reminder of why I didn’t like high school and why I tried so hard to avoid the drama that comes with raging hormones and identity struggles. Rather than feel empathy I simply got pissed off at my class. I couldn’t/can’t understand why they simply won’t stop talking over me or over each other, why they refuse to listen or follow directions, and why they are just bags of angst. I’m just not cut out for this. Give me a sobbing 3 year old who is scared to come into the classroom and I can work my magic within two minutes with some consolation and hugs. Piece of cake. But trying to rationalize with a bunch of 15 year olds who don’t give a crap? Nope.
And so I have to question my methods and think about how I can resolve this. I’m struggling to understand how I can connect to these students, so full of angst and pride. After I yelled at them, subconsciously hoping it would shame them into listening, I left the classroom in a huff, blowing past the worst of them in the hallway and planning what I would say to my supervisor about their behavior. But as I think about it more I remembered the questions that I feel all educators should ask of themselves on a regular basis: How can I connect to my students? How can I work with them to make the class enjoyable? How can I empathize with them and demonstrate this through my own actions?
We all struggle with issues of authority, at any age. While when children are very young they need authority to a certain extent, as we get older and our pride becomes more sensitive, the idea of someone else being in charge of us becomes more and more disagreeable. In my attempt to show my students that I was disappointed was I not in some way trying to exert some form of authority and saying,”I know better than you, you have to listen to me, otherwise you just disappoint me and you don’t deserve to do the fun activity I have planned”?
Now add hormones and a deep struggle to establish your identity into the mix, and the idea of someone else imposing their rules and “wiser and older than thou” attitude on you, and you just really aren’t having it.
My Latin teacher in high school was a well-known terror. He managed his classroom with a strict hand and we all laughed and thought he was nuts. But we never missed class. We did all of our work, as much as it was. But it’s because he treated us all as the individuals that we were trying to be. And I know that many of us will never forget him for it. (The fact that he came into school one day wearing a kilt also does help a bit with that:)
So what’s the next step? Go in next week and talk to my students like individuals whose voices are important to the classroom and to the class. Tell them straight. I mean, isn’t that all that we want to happen at that age anyway? We want to be treated like adults. I can’t sway them with the withdrawal of a fun activity like I can the younger kids. So it’s time for plan B. I’ll keep you all posted on what happens next!