As a teacher, I get asked, “how do you get along with teens so well?” I never thought of myself as “getting along” with teens, as it was second nature to me. I also never thought of it being a special talent; anyone can learn how to get along with teens. I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this, and I would like to share my “special talents” or “secrets” with beginning teachers and parents in this series of "How To Get Along With Teens."
First, I’d like to point out that I have taught teens for 16 years, roughly around 4000, and although I don’t have children of my own, I have referred to my students as “my kids” since my first year of teaching. They are my kids. All 4000-some of them. I have played a huge role in their lives, and they have done the same for me. Some of them are now my friends and colleagues!
I have also made mistakes and have asked for forgiveness, many times. I am not perfect, nor am I the perfect teacher, but I also don’t hide that. I create a culture in my practice that is based on honestly, strong values, and respect, and I have developed strategies to break past the language barrier that usually makes it hard for teens to articulate their frustrations.
When parents and beginning teachers reach out to me, I offer what has been my life's work in teaching them how to build strong relationships with teens. Don't get discouraged! The good news is that your teens will grow into adults, but when you’re a teacher, they stay the same age till we retire! Therefore, as teachers and parents, our role is to manage the behaviors while nurturing the relationships. Hence, teachers are experts in working with teens and they have a lot to offer. Always reach out to a teacher; we love helping!
This week's tip for teachers and grown-ups is about how to model respect for teens:
Respect is a relationship. I give respect to earn respect. The notion of, “you need to earn my respect,” never resonated with me. So here I am, a complete stranger in these kids’ lives and I ask them to earn my respect? What kids hear is, “I won’t respect you, until you prove to me that you are worthy of respect.” Why is this problematic? Because kids don’t know how to do this. We need to model respect for them. How does respect look like? It’s not about the optics, it’s about how students feel in your presence. What kind of attention do we give to them? Do we make eye contact? Do we know their names? How interested are we in them? What questions do we ask? How much do we know about them? Do we notice when they have been missing? Do we take the time to handle their meltdowns? Do we coach them when they are angry? Do we build meaningful relationships through meaningful conversations? Do we know when to back off and give kids space? Do we know what to let go of? Do we know where to draw the line? Do we know when we need to share what is going on for us? Respect is a relationship and it is something we cultivate by modeling it for teens. They will come to mimic our behavior, if they think it is fair and honest. When we are expecting them to "earn our respect," we create a culture of performative, and sometimes inauthentic behaviors; kids will do things to keep the peace but they actually won't feel true respect for us. Emphasize and nurture the relationship. That's what kids will remember and that is what respect will mean to them, that people who respect you, make you feel like you matter.
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