Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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Teen Angst Prevention Methods
Monday, August 17, 2009

We're in that weird limbo-y time when summer's not quite done and we're beginning to see the new school year on the horizon. We've got a big collection of ideas for future posts, but in a lot of cases we've chosen to hold off on posting until we've started to attend our education classes. We'll even keep a few for the first few days of our practica (not that we'll have any shortage of things to chatter about then). All this to say, we probably won't be having too many "big question" type posts in the next two weeks. But never fear, the challenging stuff will return eventually. Think of it as a last little vacation for your brain.

For now, we wanted to address the topic of teen angst and discuss some strategies to keep it from hijacking your lessons.

Jon is planning to teach middle school, and I've got my heart set on the senior grades of high school (though we'll see what we end up with in a few years...). You remember my post awhile ago about teenagers being world champion whiners? ("But miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiss, nobody CARES what it felt like in the waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar. We just want our cellllllllphones baaaaaack!")

Well, teens and tweens may be prone to over-exaggerated complaining, but it's important to keep in mind that they do still have completely legitimate problems and causes of stress. You remember what it was like to be in grade seven, not sure whether your outfit was trendy or just completely tragic, still figuring out this whole deodorant concept, wondering why fractions just fly out of your head when that cute girl with the sparkly nail polish walks by your desk... and in high school it's even worse. The hormones triple in intensity just when you think you're starting to manage them, you're now having to take on extra-curriculars so you'll get into university, and your boyfriend doesn't understand why you can't talk to him for three hours every night. And I am just scratching the surface of worries and issues that will plague our students and keep them from doing their best in our classes.

It's important to hold your students to a high standard of achievement in your classes, because high school and middle school are the times to learn how to handle several conflicting commitments at once. Think of the struggles you're having in your life right now-- you're nervous about starting a new program, you're juggling your friends and significant others, you're trying desperately to stick to a reasonable budget-- this stuff will always pile up. What you want to do is equip your students with the tools to evaluate and overcome the stresses of adult life.

The most valuable thing you can do as a teacher is care about your students. Help them, teach them, but above all, care about them.

I took a particularly demanding English theory class in my second year of university. It was interesting, though, so most days there was lots of class participation and we all tried to raise our points, even if it was just a question or a statement about our first impressions. One day, as exams were looming, our prof just kept asking questions only to be presented with a sea of blank faces and dead silence. So instead of presenting us with yet another leading question about Lacan, she simply asked, "Are things ok with you guys?"

Tentatively, a hand went up.

"I stayed up all night finishing a paper for another class, and my housemate disturbed my two short hours of sleep this morning by arguing with her boyfriend."
"My parents want me to come home in between exams but I really need to stay here and focus, but they don't understand."
"I'm pretty sure I'm failing stats."
"My boyfriend just broke up with me."

We spent a half hour discussing all the things that were preventing us from focusing during class, and then our professor let us leave early. She later published an article in a journal for university instructors (I couldn't find the link, sorry!) that described that day as an epiphany for her-- when the students aren't responding, it isn't necessarily your material; instead, they could have any number of problems that you just don't know about.

For us, it felt so liberating to get those worries off our chests, and so comforting to know that one of our profs actually cared to listen to our stressed-out rantings. She didn't give us any extensions on our paper or any less readings, but she gave us a small, meaningful hour of mercy when we felt we could barely keep our heads above water.

Now, as a high school or middle school teacher, you can't turn your classroom into a public forum for airing out complaints (cue the whining). But if you see a student really struggling, take them aside and ask them if anything is bothering them. You'll have to be careful to stay professional, but a referral to a counselor or even lending an ear for a few minutes will not only alleviate stress for the student, it'll show them that they're not just another annoying kid to you-- you care about their success.

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Courtney posted at 8:19 PM - Comments (1)


The most extreme experience I had was a 13 year old explain to me with quiet dignity that their mum had tried to kill herself last night. No wonder the pupil wasn't focused on the work.

It can be too easy to jump to the 'WHY AREN"T YOU WORKING CHILD!?' level of telling off when there are clearly other factors. If you break that relationship by being insensitive you will never be able to help that pupil.

By Blogger Duke Fandango, at August 20, 2009 at 6:02 AM  

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