Teaching teenagers

Teaching teenagers is a challenge for most teachers. I’m currently a Mandarin teacher teaching from Pre-school B students to Year 8 students (aged from 3-13 years old) at Mooltripakdee International School (M.I.S.). Due to the wide range of students I have to teach, I’ve gotten to know that teaching teenagers is totally different from teaching the younger kids.

First of all, teenagers are much more difficult to manage. The classroom management skills which work well in the younger kids will not be working for this age group. Teenagers are big enough to have their own way of thinking. If you simply shout or yell at them to make them behave that is definitely not going to work and will only make things worse. But if you do nothing or are too soft to them, they will feel free to do anything in your class and of course they can’t learn anything. Then you may ask, what is the solution to this issue? What should I do? The answer is to build a good relationship with the students. If the students like you, they won’t do anything to make you feel bad.Year-7-playing

Now the problem is how to build a good relationship with the students. Firstly, you have to really care about them. You care about their emotions, their needs, and their physical issues. For example, if someone gets a headache and you’ve noticed that in the class, you can find the medicine for them or help to call their parents to pick them up. You never humiliate or embarrass anyone in front of their friends. If you want to talk about their issues you could talk to them privately. You should be open to their ideas about what kind of topics they want to learn in class and if they’ve got some good ideas it’s worth it to adjust your teaching plan a little bit to add them in.Year-8-learn-Chinese2

However, the key to building a relationship with the students successfully is the correct balance between respect and authority. If you are not close to them, you won’t be able to build the relationship. If you get too close to them, they may see you as their friend instead of their teacher, they won’t be scared of you. It’s hard to know how far you should go. You should make the students scared of you, but out of respect not fear. You should transmit the idea that you are the one who is in control of the class, but out of class you could be their friend. You could play with them and you are happy to talk about their daily life and share stories with them. A successful teacher can make the students behave in class and out of class they can be quite close.

Another challenge about teaching teenagers is how to motivate and interest them. It’s important to create a positive learning environment in which they feel happy and motivated to learn. Once they find that the class is boring they would give it up and stop learning anything. As I mentioned before, teachers should talk about topics that relate to their daily life.

They would not be interested in anything that happened a hundred years ago! But we couldn’t change all the topics in our textbook to the ones that the students are interested in.

What we could do is change the way we deliver the topics to the students. For example, when I teach them how to introduce yourself and someone else in Chinese, instead of just reading the textbook, I would create a role play about meeting new friends at a party where students have to actually act in the situation and practice
how to do it in their real life. I could play some Chinese music as the background music to make them not be nervous. By doing the role play they could quickly pick up the vocabulary and grammar in a natural way.

Finally, each child deserves a champion, never give up on them. We should insist that they become the best that they can possibly be. This job is tough, but it’s not impossible. We can do this, we are educators and we are born to make a difference!

Lei Chen is a Chinese teacher at Mooltripakdee Inter-national School.

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