Terrible Teens – Bad Day at Black Rock

2nd December 

I’ve taught at some of the biggest private centres, and smaller modest schools, at university and public schools. I’ve taught pre-Kindergarten classes, pre-teens, late-teens, business people, professionals, children from modest background, children from privileged backgrounds, gifted students and those with clear learning disabilities. 

I’m happy to take on any challenge and attempt a Pygmalion-style transformation. I’m happy to turn screaming, crying nippers (young children) into model students who can speak the Queen’s English at the drop of a hat (that one takes a bit of time). But I’m not happy when I see I have a teen class … and this was one of the worst.

On the plus side, I was just substituting, so this was a one-off. I wouldn’t have to see any of these students again (they no doubt feel the same about me, but this is MY blog, so I don’t care what THEY feel).

This was similar to other horrendous teen classes; the students don’t want to be there, don’t want to learn and don’t want anyone else to learn. What they do want is to shout, scream, sleep, fight, eat, sleep (again) and show how rebellious and disrespectful they can be, the pack-mentality just reinforcing this behaviour. And there’s always someone who shouts out, “Boring !”.

Actually, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been; one teacher at this centre told me he was once sworn at by a student. That teacher refused to continue the class and walked out.

What I noticed here was a total lack of interest from half the students, while the others were demonstrating how they wouldn’t listen to any instruction e.g. to keep eating when they were told not to, to continue talking, fighting, sleeping on their desks. And it was a large class. It resembled a public school class more than a private centre of high-repute.

I’ve been told that students are terrified of both their Vietnamese teachers, and of their parents. Physical punishment is still used at school and in the home. Being bad at school will not only bring a beating but also bring shame and disgrace. When students have a foreign teacher, it’s a chance to ‘fight back’. Teachers represent authority, and here’s a chance to be a ‘normal’ teen, to be arrogant, rude and obnoxious. Some of them take that chance.

Some methods for dealing with the terrible teens include what I term the ‘Full Metal Jacket’. This involves punishing the whole class for one person’s actions. For example, if student A says, “Boring,” again, you all get extra homework. Hopefully this peer pressure works.

A more productive way is to negotiate with them. If they do the assigned work, they can play games or do activities of their choice. 

Sometimes a teacher just has to pick their battles. No way can I outshout even one student (the Viet, bless their hearts, are not the quietest people on the planet), let alone twenty-five. Ultimately, we are here to help but if they refuse help there is no point wasting time or energy. Instead, identify the students who do want to learn, gather them together and teach them. Do not let the trouble-makers spoil it for the real students.

To end on a high note, this class is an anomaly. Other teachers have commented on how bad it is, how unteachable the students are. I’ve recently taught two other classes of teens and they have been darlings … but that is for another post.

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