by Pravita Indriati
I love teaching children. In the eight years that I had proudly been teaching young learners, being among children in class, singing, dancing, telling stories, and having fun with them had become my comfort zone. I was interested in early childhood education and spent a lot of time expanding my knowledge in this area. I could say that teaching English to young learners is my thing. However, two years ago I had to leave that comfort zone when I started teaching teenagers. Even though it was not the first time for me to work with this age group (I had previously taught teens for a short while), to be honest, I was a bit surprised to see how different they have become. This change has been a challenging experience for me, but I survived and learnt a lot on the matter from my Personal Learning Network and iTDi along the way. Now I would like to share some of my findings with you.
What makes working with teens challenging and different?
Teens are tricky.
Ten years ago the teenagers I taught were friendly and kind, always listened to what I had to say to them. I’ve found them to be so different now, rebellious and reluctant to communicate or study. One day I heard a bunch of students talking and laughing at me behind my back, which made me feel so frustrated. That was when I changed my perspective. Indeed, they are not kids anymore, they have reached the age when they think they are grown-up… but they aren’t quite yet. They want to be seen as adults – so I thought I should listen to them and be their friend. Trying to get to know them better helped me to understand the reasons behind their sometimes arrogant behaviour – they just want to be treated the same like us, adults.
Teens are tech-savvy.
I remember during the first year of my teaching career there was a boy who came up to me and talked animatedly about his favorite band, showed me their CD that he’d brought from home. Nowadays it’s not only music they’re up-to-date with but also technology, and social media in particular is the top trend for their age. They keep talking about their Instagram accounts, bragging about their love of Minecraft, discussing their favorite YouTubers whose updates they always follow. If we could be teachers who know about these passions, can talk about them (or even teach!), our students would then think, “My teacher is cool!”
Teens are unpredictable.
Expect the unexpected. We should realize that our teenage students will not always be happy and enthusiastic in our classes. Since their mood changes so quickly, we should be ready to respond to that. Personally, I try to think of ways to make the same activities we’ve done before even more interesting and engaging. As I noticed their interest in technology, I started bringing it into class as much as possible. We have played song-related games in class (hits from Top 40, of course), watched YouTube videos connected with the themes of our lessons, played educational online games, created projects using Lino, Instagram, and WordPress. To my surprise, these activities have given a tremendous boost to their interest in the lessons.
Teens are active.
There’s just no way to get them sit, listen, and write. Much like little kids, they have lots of energy and they’ll quickly get bored once they have to waste it at their desks. There have been classes when some of my students suddenly stood up from their chairs and moved around in the middle of my lesson! I realized that combining regular tasks with some kinesthetic activities is a good idea in a classroom full of teenagers. They love running dictation, racing games, scavenger hunt, or whatever activities get them moving while learning.
Finally, and this is my favorite part of teaching teenage students, they are so full of life. Teaching teens may sometimes mean teaching calm, quiet and obedient learners, but more often, they will be active, talkative, fun, and even weird. My students love to throw some jokes and tell funny stories, and then I listen and laugh with them. I think teenagers, more than any other group of learners, appreciate it when their teacher can join them in the fun, tell jokes, keep up with the trends, and generally be “in the know”. That’s the kind of teacher I am trying to be. In return, I ask them the favor of not giving me reasons to behave like an old and boring teacher that they don’t want to have and I don’t wish to be.