I remember being a moody teenager and I know my parents remember it even more so. Some days I wanted to talk about my day and others I just wanted peace and quiet and I can’t tell you why I was like that because it doesn’t make any sense to me now.
As anyone who is working with teens will tell you… woo, it’s a trip. It’s both rewarding and exhausting depending on which day you ask me. Some days it’s both somehow but all days it’s worth it.
I recently started at a new school this week. While walking in to the classroom, the teacher said,
Now, this is kind of a rough group. It’s the behavioral modification class.
The list of profanities that runs through your mind when you hear this is really impressive. You already know you’re walking into a challenge. You already know you will be met with opposition. You already feel the seething rage of angry teenagers pouring out into the hall. They can have a real powerful way of making you feel awful if they want to. All you can do before you walk in is to cross yourself.
I walked in and stood at the front of the class with my partners and we waited for students to come to class. I got all my papers out and neatly organized them on a desk as I heard them coming in behind me. One punches another, as teenage boys tend to do, and he insisted it didn’t hurt and that the other should try harder.
They’re already punching each other and they haven’t even sat down yet. Super.
I thought this to myself as I turned around and smiled at everyone who came in. No one smiled back except for the one girl in the class who I greet with a silent “hi” and she gives me one back with a big smile. Some came in, saw us, started cursing and turned around to walk back out the door while the teacher chased after them insisting that giving us a chance will be a good thing. It really can be defeating to be hated before even getting the chance to speak.
Once everyone was inside and the stragglers were corralled back in against their will, we got started by introducing our program. I try to walk around as I talk and use my Italian need for moving my hands everywhere to my advantage. I told them what we will be doing, what we will learn, the opportunities that can come from this class. I tell them it will be fun. They disagreed. After telling them why they’re there, they are asked to introduce themselves; what is your name, your grade, and one thing you are interested in? The first boy says he likes video games.
So does my husband,” I say “which ones do you play?
He listed them off, some of which I have never heard of. Then I asked if he liked any of the titles I know my husband does.
Oh, yeah, that one is good.
Someone else chimed in from the other side of the room. Then a lengthy conversation about video games ensues. They argued over graphics and titles. We are about to move on when I motion to my partner that if this is making them talk, we should keep going.
Okay, so does anyone in here want to actually design video games?
A couple kids start talking about how that is the career they want.
Great! We can talk more about that throughout the year. Oh! Does anyone in here play ‘Borderlands’? My husband loves that one.
Yeah, miss, that one is good. What’s your husband’s name?
And just like that we weren’t the big bad visitors anymore. Now, we were having a normal conversation with them…even if it WAS about video games.
The rest of the class went smoothly. Everyone was talking and engaged. One kid sat in the back with his head down, but I’ll get him eventually. One day a topic will stick and he will listen and change his mind about us. Another key to working with teens is patience.
When the bell rings, everyone gets up, grabs their things and says “thanks” and “see you next week”. One kid, the one who responded with “I’m not in the mood” when asked to introduce himself, stays behind a minute to talk about how he wants to be a veterinarian. He tells us about his pets, we say that hopefully we will take a field trip to a vet’s office and he can talk to the doctor about his job. “That would be cool” he responds then thanks us and heads out.
As we are leaving, the teacher comes up to us in the hall and says,
So this won’t be your last week will it?
They’re a good group. We will be back next week!
You can’t always stick to the plan. The plan is made before you know the circumstances sometimes. Every once in a while, talking about video games can save the day after all and sometimes a “rough group” just needs to be smoothed out a bit.