“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” – Diogenes Laertius (3rd century A.D.)
When you walk in to the classroom, what are your expectations? Do you have any? Do you expect that every child will be proficient by April when the state tests roll around? Do you expect that all your students will pass your class, or do you aim for at least 50%? Whatever your expectations are, do you base them upon your standards of academia, or your students? In order for you to truly be successful in the classroom, I suggest that you get to know your students. Do you truly know them? What they like or don’t like? What their situation is at home? What are they involved in after school? Do you have any idea about their “sphere of influence”? I recently spoke to a group of youth pastors at a conference, and posed these same questions to them. The difference is that they are only given about 4 hours per week with the kids in their “classroom”. Teachers, we have 35 hours. So what are we doing with the time we’re given to reach out to these students and help them achieve their potential?
In my 13 years as an educator, I’ve spent 12 of them in private Christian schools. Society has the perception that we have a bunch of solid, good, or even outstanding young men and women that don’t ever deal with the issues of life. Yes, our kids have a different view of the world. One that is based on the Word of God. Do they still succumb to the pressures of life, absolutely…partying, fighting, abuse (physical and/or emotional), pornography, drugs, cutting, alcohol, destroying property, bullying, and the list goes on. These are some of the issues that the kids in Christian schools deal with. For those of you in public education, I’m sure you can relate. I think a lot of people wonder why. Why do we constantly have to teach our students about the dangers of sex, drugs, and the rest of the things on the aforementioned list?
I recently read an article entitled “Beautiful Brains” by David Dobbs (October 2011). In the article, Dobbs defines why kids (ages 12-18) constantly struggle with the above. Simply put, he calls it “sensation-seeking”. Due to their not yet fully developed brain, they are at a stage in life where they seek the things that will give them a rush…Junior High teachers, ya with me?! For us whose brains are “fully functional”, a.k.a. adults, we easily misinterpret and mislabel these kids as “irresponsible”. We do that because we don’t have an understanding of how a “tweeners” brain works, or doesn’t work. Dobbs explains in his article,
“We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you’d need to do the things you have to do.”
“Yet teens gravitate toward peers for another, more powerful reason: to invest in the future rather than the past. We enter a world made by our parents. But we will live most of our lives, and prosper (or not) in a world run and remade by our peers. Knowing, understanding, and building relationships with them bears critically on success.”
“Why don’t they listen?!” Ever said that? I have. I’ve become discouraged many times when my students wouldn’t listen to my “sage” advice. But I know what I’m talking about. I’ve got life experience. Why don’t they understand? The answer is simple. They don’t listen because you’re not speaking their language. They constantly seek the sensation of their own experience and their peers because that’s what drives them. Will they eventually wise up? Of course. We did, didn’t we? But it takes time. Most importantly, it takes understanding who they are. Are you willing to do that? If our expectation that the 12-18 year olds in our presence are to act like adults, then we are mistaken. They’re not adults. They are, as my dad always told me, “My son, you’re almost an adult”. My dad understood that I would make mistakes. I would seek the sensations that would sometimes get me in trouble. But he knew that I would learn from those mistakes. Like my dad did with me, we need to meet our students exactly where they are. We need to stop viewing them as messed up, immature, hopeless, lazy, irresponsible, not-going-to-amount-to-anything, wretched teenagers.
In the end, if you’ve genuinely spent time getting to know your students, and established high, yet proper expectations for them, you will receive the eternal rewards that every teachers looks forward to. These are some of mine:
“You genuinely cared for me.” “You knew me on my deepest level.” “You treated me like an adult, even though I wasn’t.” “I may not remember anything you taught me, but I remember that you loved me for who I was.” “Thank you!”
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28 (NKJV)