I have a two-year-old (almost three-year-old) son. Needless to say, I am exhausted. But what I have noticed lately, is that my son acts more and more like my high-school students. I see his playful, yet deceptive, antics when he explores the boundaries of my patience, as well as his intrinsic curiosity when he discovers a new pattern or revelation of the world’s natural wonders. I’ll never forget the day he found his own shadow. Many times I will relate what my son is doing to what my students did earlier that day. I find myself saying, “This is just like when my students discovered this…” or “Oxygen-Magnesium!! (That’s OMg for all you non-chemists out there), this is just like when my students found out that…” Whatever the case may be, I find correlations between my students and my son all the time. So, should it really surprise me that I’m comparing his recent tantrums to my high-schoolers? Probably not…but then again, I don’t have any high-schoolers of my own so how else would I know?
Right now as I’m typing this, my sweet, darling little Liam is throwing a tantrum about the fact that he has to go to bed. (Note the hint of sarcasm in the words sweet and darling…) On the other side of the wall I can hear his whines and kicks while he tries to get my attention and come to his rescue. Yet, I will not be coming to his rescue tonight. He will have to discover for himself how to survive the woes of sleeping in a bed at 8:15pm. What does this have to do with my students you ask? Well, everything. I think about my students all the time and right now the questions I’m asking myself are, “From what situations should I not rescue my students?” “How can I get my students to survive the woes of chemistry and still love and create a passion the subject in the morning?” “At what point do I interfere with the tantrum and prevent my students from hurting themselves academically?”
I should point out here the glaringly obvious. All teachers ask themselves these questions. We always want what is best for our students just like what we want for our own children. And just like with our own children, the answers are never easy. I’ve made parenting mistakes and I’ve made teaching mistakes along the way. Luckily, I have amazing people to look up to. You know the ones, the veterans who have paved the way before us. Thus, in my journey as a teacher I have sought the wisdom of my predecessors and this is a compilation of the best advice I’ve been given:
1. All High-Schoolers are suffering from a brain injury. It’s called being a high-schooler. At a recent convocation I listened to our district’s superintendent say, “children are not who they are going to become.” Those words have stuck with me ever since. Are you the same person you were in high school? I didn’t think so. If I was the same person I was in high school, I would be a hot mess. High schoolers are dramatic, indecisive and hormonal. Every decision they make is made under the influence of testosterone or estrogen. Therefore, when working with the logic of a high schooler remember the physiological changes they are experiencing and remember who you were when you were that age.
2. When a student throws a tantrum and storms out of the room…let them. I’ll be honest, I struggled with this one when I was a new teacher. The idea of allowing a student to speak to me disrespectfully and then “get away with it” in front of the rest of class as she walks out of the classroom was absurd. Oh, little did I know. After my failed attempts to be the authority during conflicts and “show my status,” I was asked by a veteran teacher, “Why spend 95% of your time and energy on 5% of the class?” This put me in a complete tailspin. Why was I spending so much of my time and energy on this individual? I had 24 other students who were ready and willing to learn. I was wasting their time! After that everything changed. Just like my two-year-old on the other side of the wall, if I give the student attention then I give the student power. Class time is not the time to resolve issues. Class time is the time to teach.
3. Don’t come to their rescue, instead know the path that they will travel. The best teachers are the ones that know the mistakes a student will make, anticipate it, let it happen and then guide the student to success through his failures. Yes, students need to make mistakes, but your job as a teacher should be to know the mistake before hand and guide the student through the process of failure. Don’t give him the answers and don’t bail him out. Rather, walk with him until he finds a sure footing on his path to success. I wish this advice was easier to implement but the reality is that it comes with experience and a deep understanding of content knowledge.
So with that, I leave you to ponder the most meaningful advice I have been given. I should also mention that Liam seems to have fallen asleep, successfully overcoming the anguish that is bedtime.