Article by Sharon Witt.
In my first two years of teaching High School students, I will happily admit now that I had little idea how to relate to teenagers, let alone those with bad attitudes, negative self-image and distaste for being in school and having to learn. Talk about a steep learning curve! As you would expect of a young, naïve twenty two year old graduate, I made many mistakes in those early days when dealing with the attitudes of my students. They should listen when I was speaking and shouldn’t misbehave. Boy! Did I have a great deal to learn!!
I recall being in a particularly challenging second year of teaching. I had an especially mixed bag of adolescent students, many of these dealing with some fairly significant issues in their own lives. And I was simply on a mission to be a good teacher and get through my curriculum. If they became rude, or lashed out, I took it ever so personally, and discipline… talk about sergeant major!!
Well, it all soon came to a head, and I readily admit, I was one stressed out teacher with a class of thirty teenagers!! One evening, my husband and I were having dinner at a family friend’s home, and their teenage daughter just so happened to be in my class at school. (Awkward much?) After dinner, I began talking with her about how school was going and how discontented our class seemed to be. I remember asking her point blank, what she thought- was why it just not working? To which she replied:
“I think it’s because we don’t know if you actually like us!”
SMACK!! Talk about a punch in the guts (metaphorically of course, this student didn’t just up and belt me one!)
What a wakeup call!!!!
Right there and then, through the honest words of a thirteen year old (and how I am so grateful now for her honesty back then!) I understood where it was all going pear shaped for me! I was spending so much of my time and energy trying to get through my lessons, disciplining students who were mucking around and probably weren’t liking me that much as a teacher, and was quite frankly, drowning.
In that moment, I realised it was ALL ABOUT making a conscious effort to get to know my students, and more importantly, to demonstrate to them that I actually liked and valued them! By far, this is one of my biggest lessons for those of you who have teens in your family or work with teens regularly.Demonstrate- through your words and actions that you actually like them!
Now this may seem such a highly unrealistic goal right at this very moment for you, especially if your teenager is making life very difficult for you and your family or is being just plain defiant. But whilst we often do not like their attitudes and behaviours, we need to consistently reinforce to our children that we like them! The number one complaint I hear from teenagers at school time and time again (aside from homework) when they are struggling with a particular class or subject is “Mr or Mrs so and so doesn’t like me!!”
I try and reassure them that most teachers actually do like their students, and I’m sure this isn’t the case, but it does matter to them. Teenagers are particularly sensitive in their adolescent years and they are also very perceptive. Young people are very much drawn to spending time with friends and adults they feel ‘like’ them. They will be naturally drawn to people that like and value them. Sound simple doesn’t it?
Make sure you take the time to demonstrate daily that you actually like and value the teens in your life.
Enjoy the journey!
Sharon Witt has been immersed in the teen world for over two decades in her role as a secondary teacher, author and presenter to adolescents and their parents around the country. She is a regular media commentator on issues impacting young people, parenting and educational issues. Sharon often appears on Channel 7’s The Morning Show and The Daily Edition as well as having weekly parenting segments on radio in Melbourne and the Gold Coast. She also writes for a number of publications including Mici, Gigi and Bella magazines for adolescent girls. Sharon is the author of 12 books written for young people to help guide them through many of the issues they face in early years, including the best-selling ‘Teen Talk’ and the recently released ‘Girlwise’ and ‘Wiseguys’ series.
Read more about Sharon at sharonwitt.com.au.
This article was first published in the June 2016 glossy edition of RISE magazine. See back issues here.