Narnia Elementary School is a big part of our lives since both Elisabeth and Max attend school there. And it’s a big part of our ministry since Jana teaches there and it’s an outreach of our local church (where I’m an elder). So when Narnia was having trouble finding native speakers for the English program I decided to volunteer.
What Have I Gotten Myself Into?!
When we left Prešov in 1995 after having worked with the Lutheran youth group I felt very lucky to have been involved in something where it was obvious God was working way beyond our efforts and skill. It was truly one of those God-sized things.
But during that ministry I also came to the realization that I’m not really cut out for junior high kids. Even when I was in junior high I didn’t understand junior highers. Which I guess is the whole problem–the prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain that makes you human) is down temporarily for planned maintenance.
English Conversation and Religion
I don’t know what I was thinking when I accepted this challenge but it has indeed turned out to be a challenge.
Just look at the classes I’m teaching. Conversation and religion. Have you ever had a conversation with a teenager?
Neither have I–not even after teaching this class for six months. For religion class they don’t get a grade so you can imagine their level of motivation in that class. One student comes up to me without fail before every class and says with a straight face, “Are we just going to have free time today?”
It takes a lot of creativity and preparation to come up with something that will engage these students. And so, unfortunately, this challenge has taken up a lot more of my time than I expected. I have to admit, it’s caused me to make sacrifices in areas where I shouldn’t have been cutting corners (like trying to publish my dissertation ASAP).
In the Trenches
On the other hand. There are some bright moments.
Writing assignments, for example, are a godsend. One of the first assignments this year was for them to write up their “philosophy of life.” It seems that in their writing they are less guarded and more freely express what they’re truly thinking and experiencing. Sometimes even in conversation there’s a topic that interests them and catches them off guard. Then the whole class seems to brighten up. And sometimes in religion class there’s an issue that gets them to open up and speak their mind. And sometimes it comes in handy knowing that the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything is 42.
Teenagers are human after all. And I guess if you can reach a teenager then you can reach just about anyone. So I hope that by the end of this challenge they will have learned something from me and I will have learned something from them.
Toni Brown says
So here is my advice for dealing with a class of teenagers. 1. Food (makes them happy, keeps them busy) 2. multi-tasking (somehow they can actually listen and engage while doing something else….like eating food, listening to music, painting pictures, peeling potatoes etc.) 3. rambling amongst themselves is good (they seem to understand each other….even though we don’t understand them at all) 4. Food (I can send jelly bellies, or reese’s etc.) 5. Be animated in your voice and actions (kinda like you would when you were talking to Max or Libby at age 2. Their brain seems to regress back to what they enjoyed as toddlers) 6. Did I mention food. Good Luck. I much prefer the same development stage, but in the 2-5 age group.
Todd Patterson says
Thanks for the good advice, Toni. I should have asked you earlier.
Richard King says
(1) Pray a lot about organizing your material and about sensing links between the kids’ lives and the points you’re trying to make. (E.g., while driving we once saw a squirrel run over in the street, and I pulled over and emphasized to our kids, “See, that’s what happens if you play in the street! He wouldn’t have been in trouble if he’s stayed out of the street!” (2) “Stack the deck” — try to have other adults around who will say the same things about life, morals, and God as you would, because the kids won’t accept your testimony, or their acceptance won’t be as strong as when others say the very words you’d have said. (3) You noted the importance of topics that interest them — a boring topic will facilitate totally tuning out, which you don’t want. (4) Be faithful, and have faith. Prepare as well as you can. Then allow God to take something you say in love, even if not expressed very well, and plant that thought in a kid that appears to not be listening. But as the proverb says, “little pitchers have big ears.” They are listening, and may be able to quote you decades later.