Updated: Jun 9, 2021
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 on how to create an inclusive environment:
It’s not you, it’s us. Teens get overwhelmed. We can reassure them that things will be ok, because we know that from experience, things have a way of working themselves out. When you’re 14, none of that makes sense, and it doesn’t matter what we think. For teens, life is hard, confusing, frustrating, and people are unpredictable, hurtful, and annoying. They don’t know what we know. They can’t connect the dots, like we have the luxury of experience in doing so. They have outbursts, and some might even call us names. Do they need to be reprimanded for that? Of course, but that is not the problem. There is more under this behavior. It’s a cry for help. No teen will admit that because they are constantly in survival mode. Dig deeper. What is actually going on? How do we do that without actually asking what’s going on? Start paying attention to the things they say. Get in the group conversations, build a rapport that allows them to feel comfortable articulating their experiences. This needs to be modelled. We don’t need to share our traumas, but we can share what we learned from different experiences. We are teaching them how to find meaning in their experiences rather than being fixated on events and who said what. Ask: "What is it you need right now?" They might respond in, “I need you to back off,” or, “I need an apology,” or “I need to be left alone.” Space is crucial. Next step is to follow up: “When will we be ready to talk about this again?” “How can we move forward?” “What will need to change for us to work better?” Note how the language here is inclusive, rather than about them. It’s not them, it’s us. As teachers, we are constantly dancing with new partners. We know the dance, but they don’t. Sometimes we need to change the song, or stop the song, reteach the steps, and get back in the flow of the dance.
Follow me on Instagram for more tips on this series!