Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Adolescent Learner Honestly Revealed

I always love discussing characteristics and traits of the adolescent learner. To me, adolescents are fascinating, dramatic, and ever-interesting people that are sometimes five years old and other times think they are 40. Perhaps that's what makes my job as an eighth grade teacher NEVER dull or monotonous.

At our staff meeting this afternoon, one of our administrators spoke at our table about a conference speaker who called adolescents "large toddlers with raging hormones." What a perfect description! I couldn't think of a better one myself. After all, adolescents constantly test the limits of their environment and have the whole puberty thing to deal with at the same time.

As learners, adolescents are developing in five key areas: intellectual, social, physical, emotional and psychological, and moral. Their intellectual development often involves moving from concrete to abstract thinking, an intense curiosity, high achievement when challenged and engaged, need for constant peer interaction, and an ability to be self-reflective. These learners also demand relevance in learning and what is being taught while developing the capacity to understand higher levels of humor, some of which might be understood as sarcastic or even aggressive by adults (my personal favorite). Adolescents need to know WHY they are learning, which requires them to be highly engaged with the lesson at hand.

Socially, adolescents model behavior after that of older students, experiment with ways of talking and acting, explore questions of racial and ethnic identity, explore questions of sexual identity, seek approval of peers and others with attention-getting behaviors, and fluctuate between a demand for independence and a desire for guidance and direction. Physically, adolescents experience restlessness and fatigue due to hormonal changes, a need for physical activity due to increased energy, development of sexual awareness, physical vulnerability, and bodily changes that may cause awkward or uncoordinated movements.

In terms of their emotional and psychological development, adolescents have mood swings marked by peaks of unpredictability and intensity, a need to release energy, a desire to search for independence and adult identity and acceptance, self-consciousness, concern about physical growth and maturity, a belief that their personal problems and experiences are unique to themselves, overreaction to ridicule and embarrassment, and seeking the approval of peers and others with attention-getting behaviors.

Characteristics of young adolescents' moral development include an understanding of the complexity of moral issues (question values, cultural expression, and religious teachings), being capable of and interested in democracy, impatience with the pace of change, and needing and being influenced by adult role models who will listen and be trustworthy. At this age, adolescents also rely on parents and important adults for advice (but also want to make their own decisions), judge others quickly (but acknowledge one's own faults slowly), and show compassion and are vocal for those who are suffering - and have a special concern for animals and environmental issues. They want to know right from wrong. Mutual respect pays a large role here, as adolescents will only listen to teachers who listen to them. If you don't care, they won't care!!

Honestly, while none of these characteristics surprised me, I am always amazed at the variety of ways these traits manifest themselves in individual students throughout a typical day in the classroom. At any given moment, one student may be showing the potential for true critical thinking while another student is crying over a broken relationship at the age of 14. One student may be contemplating global warming while another is far more concerned over whether she will be called "cardboard" for not yet having a "chest."

Clearly, adolescence is full of drama, unpredictability, and contrasts, making no day a boring one in the middle school classroom. If anything, this severely awkward time in my students' lives allows me to work with them at their neediest and more vulnerable -- and help them begin to develop the confidence, skills, attitudes, and work ethic necessary to mature into responsible and capable young adults. A tall order? Absolutely, and I would have it no other way.

No comments:

Post a Comment