So kids “these days” aren’t out of control; growing up just comes with a dose of rebellion regardless of the time period.
So why are middle schoolers and teenagers often rebellious? The answer is actually quite scientific. First we all have a brain. From the age of 3 months to around 12 years old billions of crazy lightning bolts (neurotransmissions) are happening along the pathways of our brains. When we learn something new it is because electrical impulses make jumps where the pathways are not connected through the creation of a bridge over the gap (synapses). But around 13 something changes in the brain. Some synapses are destroyed or overtaken. Our interests in a diverse amount of information often gets swallowed up by focusing on a few things. This is what often makes people perhaps more math or literature oriented. But psychology would add that children are beginning to find their individual identity away from the family and are focusing on independent decision making. When synapses are destroyed or taken over with new neurotransmissions of information it often causes a susceptibility or inclination to rebellious or risky and dangerous behavior. (many of us had some form of the experimental stage).
I have taught in public and private schools to both gifted and learning disabled students. I have taught to the extremely rich and entitled and to poor students who may not have eaten for a few days. Though I believe each student is an individual and different I also have spent many years making mistakes and great strides when it comes to understanding the teacher/student relationship component. In the classroom, respect and relationship are drawn together as well as community and autonomy-one cannot be fully realized without the other.
I would like to share 5 ideas to help develop classroom respect in through my decades of experience. These are not typical ideas about respect, for one of those I’m sure a quick Google search will land about 100 quick results with little variation– but honestly– those never really got me anywhere. These did.
1.) Be a Student : As a teacher I admit I lose perception of the different social, cultural, and even educational aspects of my class at times. So during class I try to notice what really is happening “in between the lines” of the teaching. The more I understand social dynamics happening in my classroom the better I am at keeping the class in a comfortable and safe environment ready to engage and learn.
2.) Become Eminem: No that isn’t a typo, and yes I learned a lot about respect from the highly emotional foul mouth rapper. Stay with me. When Eminem had his first few singles he became known for his incredible flow (rapping ability) while using self-degrading humor with a social commentary flare. My point is this: Don’t take yourself so seriously, because students can detect any dishonesty quickly. I often use humorous personal stories about my life (many of which show me as a person full of mistakes). These stories make me a person to my students and also helps them connect and share their own stories allowing the community to grow more personal and academic. These stories always relate to some big idea happening within the course and the students are able to see relevance immediately. It’s basically a personalized version Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.
3.) Birds on a Wire: ; blame their synapses. Here’s the trick, keep your boundaries strong and the consequence real but any confrontation should be minimal and if at all possible done without any other student around. Remember they are students and testing authority is part of their educational process. When you deliver consequences also make sure to do number 4. first.
4.) Listen, Listen, Listen, Listen: You’d be surprised how many teachers don’t listen to their students. If a student is rebelling ask them what is happening after class away from other students. Don’t be afraid to enter into the experiences they are living. Ask what you can do to help and help if you can. If the reason provides an avenue for grace give it. This doesn’t mean you are breaking your boundaries and giving in, it means you are a caring authority figure putting a student before a law. Yes, you will get students that try to manipulate your grace, but its minimal. Most students are filled with gratitude when a teacher lifts a burden from them.
5.) Be Honest: I already mentioned the need to be honest about who you are as an individual. (By the way this doesn’t mean they should be able to add you to their social media world). But your class also needs to be honest. Don’t do busy work, plan ahead, make sure you know what you are talking about in class and prepare something interesting. Find conflict in the curriculum, make it thoughtful and enticing. Be creative. Being honest means you respect your students before they ever offer you the same. It means you are excited about changing the history of the world by teaching them important ideas and challenging them.