different teacher for different age groups?

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!


7 thoughts on “different teacher for different age groups?

  1. Hi Sirja

    I don’t have much experience working with teenagers or young learners either, but am inclined to think that rather than you not being the right person for the job, it is simply a case of adapting, getting used to and finding out more about this age group. I’d imagine that anyone who can create such a positive atmosphere and develop such good rapport with people, and who treats people with respect and has high expectations of them like you do, would be the right person to work with any age group.

    Someone who does have experience with teenagers, though, is Fiona Mauchline (@fionamau) and her blog http://macappella.wordpress.com/ might be a good place to start reading.

    Good luck!


    • Dear Carol, thank you so much for your kind and encourageing words! And thank you for the link! Started following Fiona.
      Best Monday morning greetings and have a really great week! If we all wish strongly, spring will probably come soon 🙂

  2. Hi, I was also in a similar position a couple of years ago when I came to Korea having previously taught mostly adults. I was lucky insofar as I have Korean co-teachers who deal with discipline, this isn’t my strong point but I feel like I’m much more confident with this area now. I have learnt not to give up with teens, be persistent, they will warm to you and each other it might just take longer than adult classes. It took me a good year to feel comfortable and confident teaching teens. I’ve found doing needs analysis at the beginning of classes, setting goals and getting regular feedback/reflections (I wrote a post on this – https://earlyreflections1.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/student-micro-reflections-inspired-by-alex-grevetts-post-student-micro-reflections-what-i-learned-from-them/) from students really helps to understand them.
    I found Alex Walsh’s blog really great for lesson ideas and also some great posts on teaching high school students http://www.alienteachers.com/
    Maria Constantinides also has some great posts on discipline – http://marisaconstantinides.edublogs.org/2012/04/29/discipline-problems/#.UU-abBfwlr0
    Finally, Rose Bard writes a lot about teaching teens too http://rosebardeltdiary.wordpress.com/

    Hope that helps,


  3. I am not a teacher but I think every age group needs a different approach and it’s probably easier to teach just one age. That doesn’t mean a teacher cannot learn and adapt though but I’d prefer to stick with one age group – much easier that way 🙂

  4. Hi Sirja,
    I think the most important thing is having a teacher who is motivated and enjoys their job… who finds creative ways to bring the lessons to life, etc… and from your posts I’m sure that your students are lucky as you do that. So I would say that most likely it is just a thing of getting used to their style… of adapting to them… of picking up on their type of humor… of failing with a lesson and learning from that… and so on 🙂

    On the other hand, I also think that some teacher’s simply “gel” better with a certain age group. I only say that in my own personal opinion and in my own experience. Though I work with adults now, my educational prepared me to be an elementary school teacher. After the degree I went through the teacher credential program – which meant I was a student teacher with various ages from between 6 and 14 years olds. I most definitely clicked more with the age group of between 8 and 10 – the group that I had wanted to teach. Perhaps I think like a little kid?!!

    Five months with a group of thirteen year olds was tough… There were moments that were absolutely wonderful… where you could see how much you truly were helping them out and possibly guiding them in one direction in life… supporting them… building up their self-confidence… and other moments that were extremely frustrating! Maybe that is just part of that age? 🙂 My master teacher was a wonder to see though, as she had so much experience with them that she could very easily “think like them” or put herself in their shoes, and knew when to give attention or to withhold it. I’m not sure how much of that came with time and how much of it came from her character. Perhaps a mix of the two. She was in her mid 50’s so I’m sure the TIME had a lot to do with it!

    If it really isn’t working though, after a lot of time & effort, don’t get down on yourself. Perhaps it really is not the right age group? That doesn’t mean you have failed or that you are giving up… (that’s important to remember). Anyhow give it time, it doesn’t sound like it’s at that point yet!

    • Thank you, Matt, for your comment and for taking the time to respond. Appreciate that a lot! I cannot but agree with you, and yes, I will take the time and make the effort and if it works, well, you will definitely hear about it 🙂

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