Myths About Teaching Teenagers

Along the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to deliver trainings for fellow teachers who were about to take on teenage groups. The number of teachers who show some sort of insecurity and vulnerability in teaching learners aged 12 to 18 is high. And when asked to give reasons, the answers are frequently the same:

  • “Well, teenagers are bad-tempered and misbehave”.
  • “Oh, they’re lazy.”
  • “They stress me out!”
  • “Teens are obsessed with their smartphones.”
  • “They tend to be too absent-minded.”

 

While it is true that depending on their age gap, teenagers have a tendency of behaving a certain way, we ought to consider that these stereotypes might be damaging for both, teachers and students. Damaging for students, who may feel taken for granted, and for teachers, who might miss teaching opportunities. And truth be told, when the subject is human behaviour, nothing is ever 100% true. Therefore, I have put together a list of the top 6 myths and misconceptions teachers usually have when they are to start teaching teenagers.

 

  1. Teens Don’t Know How to Follow Rules

Teenagers are known for being stubborn, but aren’t most people? When inside a classroom, a group of any age will need a leader. Someone who motivates and inspires them. Someone who they can look up to.

Nowadays youngsters have found a voice, so why not use this voice inside the classroom? We can’t afford to be self-centred and overlook their wants and needs. We must be open to their suggestions if we want them to be involved in activities. So here is a piece of advice: do not fear losing control. Get rid of that old-fashioned thought that students should play passive roles in the classroom. By becoming more democratic, the students and the teacher can work as a team towards common goals.

 

  1. They Aren’t Interested in Learning

Everyone is interested in learning as long as what they are learning is interesting to them. This is when relevant up-to-date materials play a special part. I have come across many activities that do not arouse interest and I do not blame the students for being unenthusiastic with a text about ancient objects or a recording about space exploration. If they do not take interest in these matters, it is up to us to provide them with more gripping topics. To exemplify, I want to tell you about a specific task I remember creating for one of my groups. The textbook I was working with taught the present perfect in the context of music. Instead of assigning my students the controlled written practice from the book – which contained random fill-in-the-blanks sentences – I created some updated sentences about the musical world and artists I knew they enjoyed. Small things like this make a huge difference!

 

  1. Teaching Them is Way Too Tiring

Well, I must admit this is not exactly a myth, however, it is possible to change the narrative and make it less tiring. You don’t have to do all the hard work in the classroom. Let technology work for you! By using games, not only will you make your lessons more engaging and fun, but also a lot less demanding for you. When you show your students a video, for example, you are delivering less book-centred lessons and they are still interested. Technology in general helps a lot. Kahoot, for example, makes students exhilarated and except for preparation time, it takes no energy from the teacher, since students will be entertained enough. You are able to use Kahoot to review and practice vocabulary, grammar, functional language and much more.

 

  1. Teenagers are completely dependent on technology

It is a fact they love their phones and they cling on to them most of the time. However, when we provide them with the chance to be more kinaesthetic, they surely enjoy it. From my experience, teenagers are prone to let go of technology as long as they are benefitting from a fun task that blends competition and learning, for example. Old school games, such as hot potato, Chinese whispers and hit the target can excite them quite a lot.

How to play? The hot potato game is a great opportunity for controlled practice of a grammar point, for instance. Students pass the “potato” along and the teacher controls the music. When the song stops, the student holding the “potato” has to complete a sentence or answer a question. I have received feedback from older teens (even adults!) and they tend to have a great deal of fun with games like these.

One thing is for sure: teachers are creative beings, therefore, use yours to make any necessary changes you might find suitable.

 

  1. They are disrespectful

The truth is as long as they look up to the teacher, they are most likely to never disrespect. Be a good listener, take their opinions into account, ask for feedback and hear what they have to say. Not only will you be straightening out relationships, but also showing them that they can count on you.

One way you can find out more about your students in a subtle manner is by coming up with activities in which they are able to share their likes and dislikes. Something I usually do is: right at the beginning of the term, I ask them to list their favourite celebrities, games, songs, etc. on the board and have them talk about them.

 

  1. They are ignorant

Well, what should we expect? They are entitled to it. At their age, they are supposed to be taught practical and sentimental things. It is safe to say they are learning, and most of the times learning from their own mistakes, which means they need people who teach them how to think critically and develop reasonable and sensible judgement.

As teachers we must try our best to be a good role model for students because the way the teacher acts will reflect on his/her relationship with students. Moreover, this relationship will dictate how the lessons progress and whether they have a positive atmosphere or not.

 

Getting in touch with teenagers might be scary, but if you give them a chance, you might be surprised. I have taught a lot of teenagers, but I am the one who has learned more from them. It is possible to teach adolescents and excel professionally. Bear in mind that we can’t teach teens without tackling behavioural issues and, more importantly, teaching them about behaviour. As any other human beings, they are looking for someone to connect and share positive experiences with, so leave your fears aside and venture in this lively universe. I am sure it will take you out of your comfort zone!

 

Feel free to contact me in case you want to share thoughts and experience. My email is henriquezamboni@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!

Henrique Zamboni has been in the ELT field for almost 10 years, having worked for different language schools as an English teacher and teacher trainer. He holds the CPE, the CELTA, a degree in Letras and a degree in Marketing. He is currently teaching teens and adults.

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