One of my mentors once gave me the following feedback, I guess we don’t even need to address discipline issue here as your lesson is so catchy and energizing, students feel no need to disobey.
He had just sat in one of my older groups’ lesson and his comment didn’t really come as a surprise for me. Till then I hadn’t encountered discipline problems in any of my lessons. The majority of my students were young adults and we seemed to hit it off right from the start. I liked their maturity and creativity, they seemed to appreciate my sense of humour and my way of teaching. In short, there was positive chemistry in most of my classes.
Yet things started changing as the ages of my students began lowering. I first taught a “young / teenage” class at the beginning of last semester and it hit me pretty quickly – the way I have been teaching till now doesn’t seem to work any more. The jokes don’t work. The allusions don’t work. The expectations are not met. Instead of me being there to help and guide, I felt I was there to police and to sanction. And I hated it. Right from the start! The way I had known teaching – fun and pleasure, was suddenly turned upside down. Instead of walking into the class with anticipation and eagerness, I started dreading the lessons never knowing what will go wrong this time, what will make me cringe, what will make me disappointed. But worse still, I started blaming myself for letting the young down, for not being the right teacher for them. I started blaming myself (surprise, surprise) when the noise levels skyrocketed, when they kept forgetting their books, when their marks weren’t good enough. I felt it was ME who was doing something wrong. It was ME who failed to create a motivating and productive learning environment.
The more I think about it the messier the whole situation gets. On one hand I feel I offer and expect things not really appropriate with these groups. After all, they do not have the same level of maturity my previous groups did. They have different interests (most of which do not revolve around school!), different needs, different attitudes. Yet on the other hand I also reckon that teachers have great power in influencing the students’ image of themselves. If I go and treat them like adults, if I expect them to be responsible and independent and autonomous, then it will definitely push them towards that ideal.
Having said all the above, I would like to ask you some questions. I have been thinking about it over and over but no wise answer has surfaced.
It is clear that different age groups have different needs. Teaching kids is not the same as teaching adults. So maybe not every teacher is up to doing it all? Maybe some of us are made to teach adults, others teenagers or young learners? Could it be that I am simply not the right person to take this responsibility?
But maybe not. Maybe a good language teacher is good no matter what the age group. All that has to be done is more training, more learning, more experience. If so, could you recommend any great books on teaching teenagers?! I guess the fact that my own kids are getting closer to that stage will probably help me improve my teaching skills. But till then, I am in need of coaching!