Supporting Tweens and Teens During a Challenging Life Stage
Middle and high school teachers can take simple steps to help students feel confident of success in their studies as they begin to transition into adulthood.
Being an adolescent can be hard work. Adolescents face social, emotional, and hormonal changes, often with little or no guidance, and they’re influenced by social media in both positive and negative ways. They’re often unsure of what they’re experiencing both mentally and physically. Sometimes they’re afraid and confused. Some don’t know how to “properly” express themselves, so they bottle their emotions, only to become overwhelmed. They’re faced with the pressure of figuring out where they belong, or even if they belong.
As educators, we strive to support students to the best of our ability, a challenging task with tweens and teens, particularly for new teachers. How can we make the transitions of life smoother for our adolescent students?
What We Can We Do
We can give them a level of confidence. The classroom should be a safe haven where students feel comfortable no matter their level of proficiency. It’s essential that educators build appropriate and trustworthy relationships with students, so that they’ll develop a passion for learning.
- Make a phone call to each student’s parents or guardians to establish a rapport before the school year begins or very early in the year. Introduce yourself and the subject you’ll be teaching, and give a little background information about yourself. Let them know how important education is to you and your plans to ensure that their child has a successful year.
- Consider sending a postcard to each student during the first two weeks of school. Students love getting mail, and this is a way to connect with them. Include some encouraging words that will motivate them to succeed. This will make them eager to attend and engage in class.
- Use an online platform such as ClassDojo to send positive messages and pictures to your students’ parents. ClassDojo is a user-friendly and fun tool that allows you to stay connected with your students and build a quick rapport with families. It’s great for posting class assignments, class announcements, and any other important information your students might need. Students can create characters and interact, and they can message teachers directly with any questions. This platform is also useful for highlighting students’ birthdays, recognizing their achievements, and giving kudos.
Create an atmosphere that encourages students to express themselves in a respectful way. Some adolescents feel that no one has experienced what they’re facing and that no one understands. Listen with positive ears and don’t be judgmental; provide guidance. When students feel they are heard, they’re more willing to accept corrections.
Set a positive tone when your students first meet you. Let them know that your classroom is their safe haven and that everyone is family. Encourage them to be kind to one another. Ensure that they know your classroom will always be a positive environment and that negativity isn’t allowed. Promote respecting each other’s opinions, differences, space, and privacy, so that students learn how to have healthy debates and build positive social skills.
Strategies That Foster Student Voice
- Use entrance and exit tickets to find out what students know and what they may have trouble understanding. Students can complete them during the first and last 20 minutes of class. An exit ticket is a great way to identify where students are still struggling.
- Model, model, model. At the beginning of the year, demonstrate what effective debates and ineffective communication look like.
- Consider using discussion boards for some of your communication between students. Some students feel more confident writing their responses than speaking them.
Teaching Strategies That Can Help All Learners
Students can be at different learning levels or come from different communities and backgrounds. This diversity means that educators needs to be effective in helping each level of student to grow academically. Create small groups that include a mixture of all levels of learners, which allows students to learn from one another and gain leadership skills. Many students find it easier to understand concepts when their peers present them.
Using visual aids such as projectors, interactive whiteboards, and hands-on equipment can help students better understand the subject at hand. Sometimes listening is not enough—when you use visual examples, students can take notes and see the steps necessary to achieve the objective of the lesson.
Strategies to Help Learners Gain Mastery
- Don’t assume that your students come to you with a particular ability or skill. Model exactly what you want students to do, and provide examples.
- Differentiate your lessons and activities to meet students exactly where they are.
- Try to have visual, auditory, and kinesthetic portions to each lesson so that students can learn using multiple modalities.
As educators, we wear many hats, and many developing minds depend on us academically and personally. We not only educate students but also nurture them. We want our students to achieve their goals. Being an educator can be tough, but it’s well worth it. There’s a joy we feel when we’ve changed a student’s life, even in some small way. The excitement we see in a student’s eyes when they’ve mastered a new lesson warms our soul. Those long nights of planning and teaching will pay off in shaping minds and building confidence. We educate because we care.