A few years ago, I signed up to teach summer school with the Toronto District School Board. My students were pursuing their Grade 11 credit. Some of them did not make it in the regular semester, while others were “fast tracking” — getting ahead with additional credits. The opportunity to teach during the summer break was not only lucrative, but, it allowed me to support students who may have fallen to bad times during the regular school semester. I always like the challenge of helping others who experience difficulty.
When students have free time, they often talk about the things that are interesting to them. Things that have profound effects on their lives. The kind of conversations they engage in at this time is usually real to them and they often talk freely, that is, if they know no one who shouldn’t be listening is hearing their heart-felt stories. I was with a group of students during the break and they engaged me in conversation. I did as much as I could to provide candid answers to their questions. Whatever they found in my answers encouraged them to ask questions without relenting. I cannot forget to this day what I saw in the question of one student who asked: “Sir, which school do you teach during the regular semester”? I responded by asking the student why she wanted to know where I taught. She replied, “Because I wish you can teach at my school”. My well prepared response was: “Why should you have me twice, when others have not had me once”! We all laughed. I contemplated the question and realized what students may be missing in their regular schooling.
What I did with all students, no matter their age, was to give them information that could last them a lifetime. To speak to me was to receive some word or encouragement that can be of help now and in the future. I realized that the Grade 11 students that I taught during summer school, these and others, like to hear stories. Stories about life. Stories about real life as a little child, life as a teenager, life as an adult. I recognized that for many teenage students, there is a wonder about the reality of their lives. They seem to wonder if it is okay that they make mistakes. In fact, some of the students told me that their parents appear not to have done anything wrong. They seem not to have made any of the kinds of mistakes that they were making. So, to some extent, they felt like they were “crazy” or that something sinister was happening to them.
Somehow, the way I presented life to them gave them some hope. When they realized that I too, as a teenager, made mistakes, they realized how normal they were. They began to relax and release the stress the suppressed their effort and stall their drive. Yes, they realized that their seeming “crazy” behaviour was very normal behaviour. Their moodiness, their grumpiness, their occasional angry outbursts at friends, teachers, or their parents; had everything to do with the normal course of life. The normal course of growing through the teen years. When a student said to me “Sir, you talk to us”. I wondered if there was a wall between them and their teachers during the regular semester.
You see, more than you know, teenagers want to have conversations. They want to ask questions. In as much as they may suggest to know it all, they are usually longing for grown-ups, indeed, for parents to engage them in conversation. Accept it! Teenagers, what do they know? If they should know anything, from whom would you like them to learn? Certainly not from the streets. You, the parent must step into the gap and communicate with them. There is much to learn at this critical time in their lives. It would be regrettable to let them grow through their teen years without the wisdom of your life experience from which to guide their own. A parent can provide for a child what no other person can give. Make sure you talk with your teenage child or children. You don’t want to say, sometime later, “I wish I had done this or I wish I had done that”. This is the time to determine what you will say 20 years from today, so say it and do so with a lot of love.
Until next time, let’s talk to our teens.
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