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The joys of teaching teenagers in the EFL classroom



If any of the below sound familiar, then I’ll bet you’re teaching teenagers! If the thought of summer gives 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.

“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?”

I think 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 teenagers 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 has 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 teenagers can be a challenge, right? But it doesn’t have to be that way. It can also be fun!

Jean Theuma, a freelance teacher trainer, shares her thoughts on the challenges of teaching teenagers in the EFL classroom.



Strauch, B. Why are teenagers so weird? Bloomsbury 2003


Should teachers be paid to attend Teacher Training sessions?

Man opening walletJean Theuma, a freelance teacher trainer based in Malta, explores the controversial question of whether teachers should be expected to attend school-run training sessions without financial incentive.

How far can we expect teachers to pay for their own professional development? If they are employed with a school, where does the responsibility to pay for CPD lie? With the school or the teacher themselves?

I have recently started running in-house training sessions for a quite large school and I’ve stumbled on a curious situation. I was wondering if anyone else has come across the same thing. The teachers feel that, as they are staying at school after hours to come to teacher training workshops, they should be paid for their time. The school, however, feels that as the teachers are benefiting by becoming better teachers, they should not be paid anything for attending. It is a sticky situation and, unfortunately, one that could have a bad impact on the attendance to the sessions.

Unfortunately, some teachers do not seem to realise how much work goes into organising training. Schools have to organise and pay for trainers to hold the sessions. They probably have to carry out observations in order to find out the best topics to help their teachers. At the end of the course of training, they might produce certificates of attendance, so that if a teacher moves on to another school, they can take evidence of having attended the sessions with them. The whole thing involves administration and record-keeping, along with the preparation of facilities and materials to be used during the workshops. .

It is all quite a lot of work to organise and it would be a shame for the training to trail off to nothing if the school does not get buy-in from the teachers. If the school does not pay for the teachers to attend, the teachers are not obliged to come; all schools can do is “recommend strongly” that they do.  So, what they decide not to go? Financially, schools cannot afford to run poorly attended training sessions. The training department would be hard pushed to justify that to the Director of Studies or whoever is in charge of the purse-strings.

Some teachers tend to think it is the schools which benefit with more satisfied customers and less complaints for the Academic Department to deal with. Also, in Malta, most teachers are paid at an hourly rate which they feel does not really cover their preparation time, let alone compensate them for staying a couple of extra hours per week for training.

Money issues aside, some teachers are not very keen to participate on the programme to begin with. They see the proposal of training as a criticism of their teaching methods. Some say that if they have been doing well so far, they do not see why they should change – The ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ attitude. They are, therefore, not very motivated to come and not paying them for attendance seems to be the final straw to many of them.

I can see their point of view but I also know how much time and energy goes into organising courses of training!

What do you think? How does it work in your school? Does your school pay for training or do your teachers invest time and energy on CPD without any financial rewards?

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