Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Only Thing You Can Do With Teens is Meet Them Where They're At

Last night I had five volunteers not show up to teach in our religious education program. Each Tuesday night is stressful as we wait for calls and then frantically try to find substitute volunteers, of which we virtually have none. So when the last teacher did not either call or show up, you can imagine how stressed and angry I felt.

The only solution was for me to take the class, which I hate to do because I can't do any of the other things that I am supposed to be doing, i.e, meeting with parents, handling discipline, administrative duties like attendance keeping and photocopying and observing and evaluating the volunteers who are there.

After resigning myself to the inevitable, I hastily made a copy of the class roster, grabbed a student copy of the book (the absent volunteer had the teacher's manual) and ran down the hall to meet with this group of junior high students. Their reaction to my presence was less that enthusiastic, can you imagine that? But then, what group of teens wants to be taught by the director of the program instead of the young, pretty and hip mom who normally leads this class? I guess I couldn't really blame them.

Nevertheless, I was resentful that I had to be there and I lost my temper, not at their lack of enthusiasm, but by their unwillingness to co-operate under difficult circumstances. The truth is, I wasn't angry with them necessarily, at least not at first, but at the fact that the entire evening was one problem after another. I had already had enough! And now this.

I ranted and raved for a few minutes about their crummy attitude. At least now they weren't laughing any more (which was appropriate but also a shame when you think about it.) When no one volunteered to read from the book or to answer the question, I called upon students randomly and eventually the class got underway. Once we all relaxed a bit, we began to establish a guarded rapport. Eventually, I compromised: if they weren't willing to talk to me, let them talk to each other. Instead of answering the questions in a large group setting, they discussed them in small groups, coming to a group consesus that could then be reported to the class at large. The pressure was shared among the persons of the group as they worked together. They responded to this approach very well. I repeat: imagine that!

It never ceases to amaze me how stress or unexpected circumstances can cause me to act less than my best self--as if I'm taking all I know about teaching or about adolescents and throwing it away! I revert to that teacher that so many of us remembers but who none of us liked. Once I was able to move past my own annoyance, and remember why we are all there, we began to accomplish something together. I need to remember what it's like to be in seventh grade and to imagine what it must be like to come to class at night after being in school all day. Like me, the kids had already experienced a full day's worth of tasks and pressures. The best thing to do was to meet them where they're at. I think we were all really in the same place--a place where none of us felt like being.


Tao Master said...

I think the true tests of ourselves comes when we respond to things that take us out of our comfort zone - Very few people could have done what you did - take an uncomfortable situation and make it work.
I think you showed me that you are a wonderous person by the way you kept looking for a better solution and when you were willing to adjust your expectations.
By the way - what were they learning - please don't say the Bible,

Soulsearcher said...

No Frank, not the Bible, but how to live Christianity in the practical sense--in their lives as students.

Lin said...

At least you admit that you didn't want to be there! I think that was the first step to overcoming the situation. Maybe you connected on that level and then you could all move forward. Good job!

butterfly woman said...

Wow, great solution to a problem. It seems you surrendered, let go of your expectations and let the universe take over. You became aware of your emotions, detached from them, stepped back, became more of an observer and things flowed. Thank you for sharing with me a little more of your work life. Perhaps now you'll want to teach this Tuesday night class regularly. It sure sounds like you grew from the experience.