During the fall semester I try to teach on at least one topic per month. This can be challenging since I’m not in the class with them everyday. So, to keep the students engaged in the learning process I employ magic, group work, videos, and I even use a football shaped party clapper. It’s about 10 inches by 8 inches and when you shake it back and forth it makes a tremendous sound. This gets the students’ attention and adds a bit of excitement to an otherwise boring time of discussion. I will sometimes even allow students to use it especially if they aren’t participating that much.
During an 8th grade lesson on “Popularity” a student asked me if he could see the clapper. He had acted inappropriately earlier so he was not on my good side. He asked me about three more times when I finally said, “No, and when you ask me again in five minutes, the answer will be the same.” I thought to myself, “Oh no. I didn’t just say that.” It was like I was playing poker with him and had just showed him my cards. “Bet whatever you want, big guy. The pot of money is yours.” If you have a teenager you know what I said, and sure enough, SIX minutes later, he asked, “Mr. Sadler, it’s been six minutes. Can I use the clapper now?” I said, “Sure” and handed him his trophy.
Was his behavior maddening? YES. Do middle schoolers just like to push our buttons sometimes? You bet, but had I sent him to the office, I would have lost. No amount of discipline would have proven him wrong; at least in his eyes. I said five minutes and he was only following what I had said.
In the world of adults we know that what he did was disrespectful, but when working with teens you sometimes have to play by their rules. I knew I messed up when I made the statement originally so I did the only thing I could do that would bridge a gap from me to him. Had I given him a much deserved scolding, he wouldn’t have liked me very much. I acknowledged what I said and followed through with its implied logic. He was a big help for the rest of the period clapping away for those with correct answers.
If we are going to reach children and teens we must understand how they think. Otherwise, they won’t let us teach, or for that matter, parent.
Three things to remember when speaking to teens:
1. They will hold you to your word so be careful of what you say.
3. They can’t often make sense of what they are thinking so be there to help them figure it out.