Jean Theuma, a freelance teacher trainer, shares her thoughts on the challenges of teaching teenagers in the EFL classroom.
“Why does Giovanni always ruin my lesson.”
“Sarah just doesn’t seem to care or even want to be here.”
“Pedro insists on disrupting the lesson.”
“How can they do this to me?”
If any of these sound familiar, then I’ll bet you’ve taught teens! If the thought of summer give you a sinking feeling knowing that most of your students will be between the ages of 14 and 17, then it’s time to stop and have a rethink before the season is truly upon us.
I think that teaching teens is frustrating, depressing and downright tiring but I also know that some of my favourite classes have been with teenagers. They can also be motivating, rewarding and masses of fun!
Teaching teens stretches me to look into areas that I wouldn’t normally. Trying to keep my teen classes engaged and focussed, I have delved into project work and task-based learning. I have learned new approaches to teaching that I wouldn’t have tried without the fear instilled by the thought of going into a teen class with a boring course-book and a 3-hour-stretch ahead of you (let’s be honest now)!
In an effort to find common ground, I have explored material that I didn’t think I was interested in; sports, the latest singers and whatever the ‘next big thing’ is. And I’ve learned the hard way never to try to ‘get down with the kids’ and be their friend. They want a teacher, leader, manager, and inspiration – they will find their own friends amongst their peers.
Teens are teens. I think it’s important to remember that these are not fully formed adults and that they are coming to terms with so many changes in their lives, feelings, moods, and so on. In her book “Why are teenagers so weird?” B. S draws on studies which show that the teenage brain undergoes much greater changes than thought previously. What we interpret as laziness, pig-headedness or lack of concentration might all be linked to a process rewiring and remodelling in the very structure of the brain. MRI research in teenage brains have shown that behaviour thought to be controlled by hormone imbalances are actually related to the break-down and reconstruction of neurons. I think that puts classroom behaviour issues into some perspective. Some of our students are dealing with processes which result in mood swings, lack of self-control and general difficult behaviour – they don’t understand what’s going on in their brain, they don’t do it on purpose and here we are getting angry because they feel sleepy or uncooperative. With that said, it seems that any tiny amount of progress we make in class with our students is a great achievement and we should congratulate ourselves and our students for it.
Who better to have fun with in class than a group of teenagers? Most of them have had formal lessons all year and been drilled to know the grammar and vocabulary of English; however, very few of them actually get the chance to practice and produce the language in any free or spontaneous way. We are lucky that in EFL, activities which foster genuine communication and fluency are often also very good fun. Communicative tasks change the dynamic in the class and can lighten the mood considerably. Teenagers are old enough to see the purpose of these kinds of activities but young enough to also really appreciate the game-like structure of the task.
So yes, I know – teaching teens can be a challenge, right? But it doesn’t have to be that way. It can also be fun!
Strauch, B. Why are teenagers so weird? Bloomsbury 2003