From an outsider’s perspective, teaching a group of moody teenagers could easily seem like the worst job ever. But as many high school teachers know, it’s quite the opposite, actually — teaching teenagers is a joy.
Getting to watch your students grow into their own person with unique goals and aspirations right before your eyes is so exciting. Being an educator, you have the opportunity to make a huge impact on their lives by helping them apply for college scholarships and choose meaningful careers. Plus, they understand your sarcasm and totally love it (although, they might not admit it aloud).
Of course, this isn’t to say that teaching high school students is easy. Like any other teaching job, you’re bound to make a few mistakes during your first year. To help you navigate that first year and the ones to follow, here are a few helpful tips for teaching high school students.
- Don’t demand their respect — earn it.
To teach effectively, teachers must have their students’ respect. Every seasoned educator knows this to be true. But if you try to demand your teens’ respect, don’t be surprised when they talk back and completely ignore what you have to say. Teenagers don’t subscribe to the idea that just because someone is older means they automatically deserve respect. To establish respect in the classroom, you need to earn it.
So, how do you earn your students’ respect? The same way you would with any new acquaintance: Treat them as individuals, listen to their ideas, apologize when necessary, and build a relationship based on trust.
If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But once you gain your teens’ respect, you’ll be amazed at how much easier your job becomes.
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- Treat them like the high school students they are.
In the teachers’ lounge, you may hear your colleagues refer to their students as “their kids.” This is often meant in an endearing way. For many teachers, students are like their second family. But the simple truth is that high school students aren’t kids and shouldn’t be treated as such.
For one thing, teenagers generally don’t like it — not one bit.
But more importantly, it sets the worst kind of boundaries for teenagers. Ever wonder why a seemingly-smart student acts incredibly dumb? It’s often because they’re acting within the boundaries that have been set for them by well-meaning adults.
Then again, they shouldn’t be treated like full-on adults either. They’re still learning and trying to figure out life, so remember to give them room to make mistakes and become their own person.
- Add variety to your lesson plans.
You were once a teen — you know how easily they can get bored. Teen boredom is a big problem in the classroom because it typically results in lower student engagement, which research shows can have a negative impact on academic performance.
To keep high schoolers engaged in the classroom, try to spice up your lesson plans. Make them more engaging by connecting your lessons to the real world, centering them around a theme, or making them interactive.
Be flexible. You never know when a teaching moment might arise. The best teachers are able to recognize these moments and pivot their lessons to keep students hanging on their every word.
- Help your students prepare for the future.
In four years or less, your students will walk across the graduation stage and take the next step in their careers. But are they ready? Do they even know what the next step looks like?
If your students are struggling to figure out what to do after high school, give them a range of different options. Maybe they could launch a successful career in the trades or take a gap year to uncover their passions. Help them identify what they’re good at and throw out ideas for possible career paths they could pursue.
Above all, provide support and encouragement. For students who may not get that encouragement at home, your support and guidance could make all the difference in their future success.
- Take a genuine interest in their lives.
Get to know your high school students. They’re people with lives outside of school — just like you.
Ask them about their hobbies and interests. If that doesn’t work, ask if they have anything fun planned for the weekend instead. Their answers could reveal something about them that you can use in your lesson plans.
For example, maybe a few of your students enjoy skateboarding after school. If you’re a science teacher, you could use skateboarding as a lesson in physics.
- Be positive.
Being a teenager is difficult these days. High school students are under immense pressure to be perfect in every way — how they look, how they act, how successful they are in academics and sports.
One way you can help your high school students overcome these complex challenges is by fostering a positive culture in the classroom. Building positivity into the classroom can empower your students to share their ideas, unleash their creativity, and engage in acceptable risk-taking behavior, which in turn leads to higher confidence and increased motivation.
To foster a positive learning environment, praise your students’ successes and find ways to reward them for positive behavior. Build an inclusive classroom and make it clear that you value every student equally. Establish a welcoming atmosphere, and, eventually, your students will grow more comfortable sharing their ideas and perspectives.