This article was written by Shana McKay — a Massachusetts public school special education math teacher since 2004. Teaching Math to kids who are afraid of math is her passion, and every one of her lessons and activities is especially designed for students who struggle with self-confidence. Check out more on her blog.
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*This article was written by a guest author. It has not been vetted or endorsed by Bored Teachers' editorial staff.*
I love teaching older kids. When my husband was making the jump from teaching elementary school to teaching high school he was a little nervous. To help ease his nerves, I gave him this advice: "High school kids are really just little kids trapped in big kid bodies." A month or so into school he knew exactly what I meant. High school kids look like adults and sometimes act like adults, but just under the surface are little kids looking for advice, guidance, and reassurance that things will be OK. They are funny, witty, and I genuinely enjoy their company.
Teaching high school is hands-down the best job there is, but every so often, I hear things from fellow teachers like, "I could never do that," or "Ugh, the hormones!" I mean it's tough, don't get me wrong, and there are hormones! But let's be honest here - not nearly as many hormones as middle school and not nearly as tough as prepping for 5 subjects a day like in elementary school (though some Special Ed teachers do have a ton of preps). I asked some high school teachers what they like best about teaching high school and summarized their responses below. If you're not currently a high school teacher and are wondering if a career change would be worth it, well here are 7 reasons why it would be!
1. They are more independent.
Teacher Ms. Michelle from Lessons with Coffee loves teaching older kids because of their desire to be more independent. Many have jobs so understand responsibility. Their whole goal is to "save face" and appear independent, but truly appreciate a teacher who recognizes when to step in.
2. The rebellion starts to wear off.
Teacher Ms. Abella from Apples and Bananas Education loves the shift that happens with kids once they hit the 11th grade:
“I love teaching older students, especially those in the last two years of high school. Something happens right around 11th grade. There's a big shift when kids start realizing that the future is fast approaching. The rebelliousness of the last few years disappears, and they actually turn to you for help and advice. You get this real opportunity to guide students as they make huge life decisions, like where (or if) they'll go to college and what passions they will pursue. They tell you their hopes and plans, but you know they are actually looking for advice and reassurance from someone they trust. It becomes less about the subject you are teaching and more about the relationship you've built as a mentor.
My favorite day of the school year is always graduation day. I feel so much pride when I think about how much my "kids" have matured in a few short years. I can never hold back the waterworks. To know that you have played a small part in shaping these big "kids" makes it all worth it.”
3. They are flexible adults.
Teacher Ms. Patrick from OC Beach Teacher loves that her students can hold it down in a conversation and are still flexible in their thinking:
“I love teaching juniors and seniors in high school. In my English class, we often discuss important real-world issues. For instance, when I teach the poem "Naming Myself" by Barbara Kingsolver, we discuss why women traditionally take their husbands' names when they get married. This leads to questions such as if the boys would take their future wives' names. Students this age are sophisticated enough to have interesting, adult-like conversations but aren't quite as inflexible or jaded as many grown adults!”
4. They are starting to get serious.
Teacher Ms. Pinder from Weatherly appreciates that, by 11th grade, her students are starting to get serious about the future:
“There is something about approaching the ‘last years’ of school that instills a sense of urgency in students. I like to take advantage of this and push my upper math students a little harder. And it is amazing how they respond. They know they are no longer children and that it is time to get serious about education, as the next step is either career or college. I love the excitement as we talk about how each concept under their “math belt” relates to their college math courses or to life.”
5. They still need help.
Becca from Science Rocks knows that her students want to be adults but that they still need a lot of guidance when it comes to getting jobs, filling out college applications and voting for the very first time:
“One of the reasons I love teaching seniors is that they’re at that age where sometimes they feel like adults and sometimes they still feel like kids. They try and act like they are grown up but once it comes to filling out college applications and getting jobs they really lean on me as a teacher to help them through. I also enjoy working with them when they are at the age of voting for the first time. There are so many things we talk about in the classroom (climate change and ownership of genes to name a few) that are hot topics in public elections. I like that they feel informed to make a good decision at the voting booth.”
6. Those "Ooooh, I get it now!" moments.
There is absolutely nothing as awesome as an 11th grader finally understanding what it means to divide a fraction or solve an equation with variables on both sides.
Yes, those are both topics taught way earlier than 11th grade. So many of our kids are carrying small deficiencies from that week in 5th grade when they were out sick with the flu or a curriculum change between two school districts after a move that have significantly impacted their understanding throughout school. The opportunity to find and remediate these deficiencies is one of my favorite parts of teaching high school students.
7. They get my jokes!
With all the learning that goes on in high school, there's got to be times throughout the day to cut the tension with the lamest jokes possible.
Joking with high school students is a way to let them know you are watching, that you want them to do well and that you care about them as people. Jokes get the same point across as discipline in a much more kid-friendly way. After all, they are still kids. Here are some examples:
Serious: "You need to be doing more homework."
Joke: "Oh, you must have accidentally written with that invisible ink again because I don't see anything written on your paper."
Serious: "It's more important to get here on time than getting your caffeine fix."
Joke: "Wow! There must have been a long line at Dunkin' Donuts this morning for you to roll in so late with that coffee!"
I mentioned earlier about high school kids wanting to "save face", which was an insight from an old principal of mine. High school kids never want to feel embarrassed. As soon as they do, the walls go up and it may take a while to knock them back down. Joking helps us get important points across while allowing students to keep their dignity.