As a high school teacher, you’re much more than merely an instructor. You’re a role model. A mentor for the next generation of adults. Think about it—almost every single successful person can point back to somebody who believed in them and inspired them to do better. And frequently, that person is a teacher.
This kind of influence hinges on making a meaningful connection with your students. It’s a big responsibility (especially considering teens are usually reluctant to getting help), but there are certain techniques you can use to positively impact your students at school and become the mentor they need. Here are 4 ways for you to build connect to your teenage students.
Ditch the Discipline
Teens aren’t going to want to open up to a teacher who’s all about disciplinary consequences. In fact, research shows classroom techniques like detentions, demerits, scoldings, and holding kids after class are actually surefire ways to turn students against their teachers. Not only are these common punishments bad ways to connect with your students, but they’re ultimately ineffective! Teens hate having their autonomy taken away from them and being embarrassed in front of their parents and peers. If you’re the one doing these things, your butchering any chance you have of connecting with your students on a deeper level.
Instead, look for ways to deal with disruptive behavior that address the root of the problem. Ask students why they’ve done something instead of simply doling out the consequences. You can do this by asking them to come to your office hours or stay a few minutes after class. The point is for you to show you want to help deal with the problem in a constructive way instead of simply ending the inappropriate behavior. Of course there are times when consequences are necessary (which I address later), but you should do everything you can before that point to help your students.
Think About Life Outside School
Even though you enjoy school and spend a majority of your time lesson planning, teaching, and preparing lesson materials, your students don’t. In fact, they’re only with you for a few precious hours every day. School is only a fraction of your students’ lives. They have friends, a family life, chores, extracurricular activities, jobs, responsibilities, and social pressures to worry about on top of homework and participation grades. It’s crucial for you to keep this in mind when trying to connect with your students!
For instance, if your typically on-time student begins arriving late to class, don’t automatically see it as a lack of respect or poor time management skills. There is probably something else going on. Similarly, your top troublemaker probably has a reason for wanting so much attention that likely has to do with aspects of his post-school life. Taking these realities to heart will help you gain perspective on your students’ lives outside of school and help you understand them not just as students, but as people!
This is probably the top way to connect with your teen students. It’s a great idea to build one-on-one meetings into your course syllabus. Not only is it a great way to offer a free 5% grade boost, but it guarantees you have at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted conversation with each of your students each semester. During a meeting, you can ask the student how they think their progress is going and what you can do to better support them. Doing so will give you a better idea of your shortcomings in the classroom as well as show all your students your commitment to them. Requiring students to come to office hours or stay a few minutes after school around midterms is an awesome idea and one I highly encourage all teachers to take!
Be Firm but Fair
Lastly, I know how frustrating it can be to be a teacher, especially when teenage students refuse to cooperate. Sometimes blatantly crude, inappropriate, or otherwise unacceptable things happen in the classroom, and there’s nothing to do but give a fitting consequence. In times like these, it’s crucial to have a rulebook to fall back on. Your school probably has a handbook detailing how to deal with specific situations, but it’s a good idea to include a breakdown in your course syllabus.
For instance, you could include specific consequences for things like swearing, inappropriate sexual comments, bullying, and late work. This way, when you do have to take punitive action, you can cite your syllabus to let your students know you’re being objectively fair. This is a great way to stay on your students’ good side even when you have to play the bad guy.