Friday, April 6, 2012

Year 2: Week 29 – Children With An Attitude

Students with “attitude” don’t really bother me.  I don’t let my kids get away with expressing rude teenage behavior but it’s not one of those things that I really mind dealing with. 

“Attitude” is that thing that a lot of people I talk to about teaching wonder about.  They don’t understand how we as teachers deal with behavior from students, which can be irritating and annoying.  Well, before we get too deep into this, let’s define our terms.  

When people talk about attitude in reference to teenagers they are usually referring to behavior like eye-rolling, sarcastic comments and talking back.  In some ways we aren’t really so much talking about students’ attitude in actuality but behavior that is irritating and negative. 

The reason I don’t think this is “attitude” because a girl who sarcastically roles her eyes doesn’t necessarily view the world in the way that she is expressing.  Often, when I discuss behavior related in most people’s eyes as “bad attitude,” they don’t full understand what they are expressing with their comments.  Does that mean that they don’t deserve to be reprimanded for their behavior?  No, but it does mean there is an important education that needs to happen to truly help this teenager express themselves.

Teenagers are not fully developed human beings.  They have a lot of growing up to do not only physically but also emotionally.  The problem is that a lot of them look a lot older than they actually are so we treat them more like adults then their actual age, which often only makes matters worse.

I’m not saying that we should talk down to kids, what I’m saying is that we need to approach situations in which “attitude” as a problem not with great anger, but with questions.  Why did you role your eyes?  What do you think that expresses to people around you?  You don’t know, well let me explain to you what adults think.  Is that what you want people to think about you?

I think in general it’s not a great strategy to go off on a kid who’s giving you attitude.  I know it’s hard not to, but it’s like fighting fire with fire.  Even if that kid backs down after being yelled at and apologizes, it’s not out of respect, it’s to placate you.

The best way to deal with “attitude” is to prevent it.  Teenagers express attitude when they are insecure, don’t feel safe and don’t feel validated.  The more you can do that early on in your relationship with teenage students to make them feel like they matter, the less “attitude” you are going to deal with. 

I’m not going to pretend that dealing with “attitude” isn’t a constant part of my teaching.  It’s annoying and it can really take up a lot of time.  But just don’t forget that they are kids trying to figure who they are and they need our help, not our scorn to get to the best of themselves.      

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