Talking Back – Dealing with ITB

Last week’s blog post  was identifying ITB – Irrational Teenage Behavior  – and learning not to react personally to it if you are a parent or teacher of a teenager. This third segment in this series about communication between high school students and teachers (or parents) is a list of what each can do to improve communication with the other.

First, a few points for teachers and parents to consider:

1. When the tone or content of a conversation is going in a direction you don’t like, don’t take it personally. It isn’t about you; it is about them.  ( Trust me, they are not thinking about you.)  Check  your emotional reactions.  Get your ego stroked somewhere else. Don’t rely on a group of teen-agers to meet your approval needs. This may seem obvious, but when you are standing alone before twenty of them in a classroom day in and day out, it is easy to fall into the trap of familiarity and to return sarcasm or apathy with the same.  ( It is also easy when you are the lone parent in the moment confronting or saying “no” to your teenager.)  We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard than the average teen-ager – no matter how good it might feel in the moment to make a snarky comment.

2. Do hold them accountable for what they say.  The rest of the world will, so let it start in your classroom.  They should be learning to be impeccable with their words in all disciplines.  The old adage, “Say what you mean and mean what you say” applies here. Make them be precise with their language and accountable when it is hurtful to you or others.   Question them until it is clear to you what was said and meant.   Model this to them in your own speech and behavior.   As the year rolls on, students and teachers  get very comfortable with each other; yet the relationship remains a professional one  and that is the standard  to which we will be held.

3. Do remind them regularly that once in print ( or cyberspace) there is no denying it.  What they put on Facebook the night before exams, they might wish they hadn’t said by the time they apply for college admission. Tell them that we don’t go looking for it, but that kind of information always finds its way back to us.

4. Remember yourself at that age.  Forgive them; though they won’t ask.    Be patient and empathetic even when they are not, but don’t enable bad behavior.  Ignoring is enabling and so is giving too much time and too many chances when they need to experience the consequences of bad choices. Love is truthful; let them experience the truth about life, themselves, and their choices.

Now for the students:

1. Respect the knowledge and experience of your teachers. Despite how brilliant you are, they actually get paid to be here and you don’t. That should be a clue for you.   Even teachers you may not like personally have expertise to offer you. You will have some you don’t like personally, some who bore you and even some who offend you throughout high school and college. Learning to get along with them and learn from them is an important life skill.

2.Your teacher isn’t your mother or father. We love you and want the best for you, but we have numerous students. You are special, but you are not the exception to the rule. We can’t always accommodate you and the rest of your peers individually.

3. Use your manners. Courtesy – words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way.  Approach a teacher with humility. See point #1 about respecting their knowledge.

4.  Don’t complain. Don’t whine. If you want to appeal a grade, approach a teacher privately and respectfully. Don’t take up others’ class time to argue over your two points on a quiz.  If you don’t like the assignment, keep the negativity to yourself.  Our goal is  your education. If we are lucky enough to entertain you too, then great; but our goal is not entertainment.   We want you engaged in learning, but that doesn’t guarantee you will enjoy everything we ask you to do.

5. Own your mistakes. When you forgot, just say, “ I forgot.”  Really. It isn’t that hard. We, your teachers, forget things too. That is much more forgivable than an overused excuse we’ve heard for years.

6.  Tell the truth.  Be honest in your dealings. We may not always have proof to catch you, but we almost always know when you are lying or cheating.  Remember we are trained in educating you – child development, psychology, counseling classes – they made us study you when we went to college. When you need us to cut you some slack or show you mercy, you’ll fare better if we know you are an honest soul.

Recently a student said to me, “May I talk to you?” followed by  “I just forgot about the deadline.”  She hit #4, # 5 and # 6 – Courtesy, owning her mistake, and telling the truth.  I gave her an extension.


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