Teenagers have a bad reputation as a group. Just like any other group there are good and bad people intermixed. But too often, our society becomes prejudiced by a group and judge all of them based on a small percentage’s behavior. That is unfair and sets everyone up for failure.
I remember shopping at our local Belk when I was 16 and this lady followed me around the whole time. I was in a t shirt and jeans and looked like a boy and was browsing with a gift certificate (this was way before gift cards) I had received from the family I babysit. Sure, I did not look like the ‘typical’ girl shopper and I am brown but it really made me feel awful. I ended up buying a blouse that was too expensive so I could get the hell out of there. I never went back and spent the rest of the gift certificate. I didn’t love the blouse but wore it on principal. Every time I looked at it instead of thinking about the generosity and love from the gift giver, I only remember the scowling face of the old white lady glaring and sighing as she followed me the entire time. She was so obvious!
When I became a high school English teacher, I was determined to give the teens a fair shake. I got to know them and yes, I had a few thugs in the 7 years of teaching. What may surprise some of you is that among the 1000+ students I taught over those years only 2 actually served time in jail and 1 quit school because he aged out for his drug addled mom who needed him to stay in to collect assistance. All three boys were victims of their circumstance and did not hurt anyone but themselves. They were jailed for petty crimes.
Did I have A-holes in class? Oh, A PLENTY- lots of self righteous, my dad pays your salary entitled brats. But they were treated equally and I made sure my rules were as fair as they could humanly be. The majority of my students felt they EARNED their grade even the failing ones. I had one teen stand up for me as his father loomed over my desk during a conference spitting as he screamed in my face about how terrible I was. The student calmly stepped in front of me, spread his arms out in a protective stance and said, “Dad – dad – calm down, it was my fault. She gave me all sorts of chances. I just didn’t turn a bunch of stuff in on time and by the time I figured it out, it was too late. I’m taking Summer school with her and I will do better.” I’m telling you, teens are awesome if you treat them with respect.
I always prepared a syllabus for the year so they knew what to expect. I was transparent with my grading practices. I was clear on deadlines and never wavered. I gave bonuses/extra credit ONLY during the first 3 quarters and none in the last quarter so they would have to think ahead instead of trying to fix things at the last minute. If they found an error that I made and they could find proof using their text or notes then I gave them double points. Man, they pored over their tests when they were returned. LOL I’m not wanting praise- I’m saying just LOOK at them and LISTEN to them and try to see through their eyes.
They don’t want things handed to them, truly! They just want you to abide by your own rules and not sabotage them by changing things midway. They just want to be treated fairly. Most of them react because they have not been treated with respect most of their lives. Even my toughest students came around once I earned their trust. Some of them made the highest grades they ever had because they felt it was worth their time. Cheaters were punished, honesty was rewarded, bad behavior was reported to the proper people only after we tried to work it out in class. I had to kick a student out of class one day because he was disruptive and I could not calm him down. I hated it but he looked like he was going to punch another kid. Later that day I found out his grandfather had been found shot. I can’t believe he was sent to school. Of course he was forgiven and our whole class gave him a group hug the next day. Teens are just HUMANS.
For the past few days I had 4 young teenagers breaking their backs hauling rocks for me. One absolutely refused payment, the other gladly took whatever I gave without complaint and my own kids are patiently waiting to see what I give them. I happen to know they will not whine about it. Next time you see a teen think first, what is he going through today? Is he as confused as I was at his age? Does he have a good home? Does he get bullied? Remember that they are just humans like everyone trying to figure out their place in the world.