The energy of adolescents can be channelized towards a constructive outcome if teachers can support them in building their identity and helping them take their own decisions. If the adolescents receive sufficient support from a trusted loving adult, and if they are made to feel competent and responsible, it can be assured that they will grow into responsible and dignified adults.
I am Sheela, and I work as a teacher in a government school in Puducherry. It is in the last counselling session that I opted to work in GHSS Thavalakuppam. The primary reason for having chosen this school was that it is situated close to where I live. While I was quite happy with my decision, I received many discouraging calls from friends who criticized my choice and warned me that it was an infamous school. All of that did make me doubt my decision—‘Have I made a wrong choice after all...’
I was given the charge of X A, a class having a strength of 40 students. Most of the students seemed to have a behavioural disorder, and they used to misbehave in class. In my 15 years of experience as a teacher, I had never faced as much difficulty in handling students as I faced with this class. The boys in class would pass comments, which made it quite difficult to have any meaningful conversation in the class. Calling out names, using foul words, and other such things seemed to be their normal mode of conversation. They were happy to be sent out of class and considered annoying teachers to be an achievement. The girls, on the other end, were distracted by their crushes, romance, and issues like teenage pregnancy.
It was not easy at all, and I struggled each day. I spoke to my friends and peers, seeking their suggestions and solutions for the existing scenario. I tried to control my class with some authority and asked questions to my students individually, and employed other such methods. However, none of these proved effective. But, my quest continued. Unwilling to give up, I pondered over the reason for such behaviour from my students. It struck me that the students were all adolescents, and it would be normal for them to undergo changes at the physical and the emotional level. Hence, they needed our support and guidance in a manner that would help them understand themselves, conduct themselves with dignity and self-regulation.
SAFE: First, I tried to be a friend to them in order to bridge the gap that is usually present between a teacher and a student. I patiently listened to them. I started talking to the students individually. It made me realize the depth of the issues that they face at home. Most of the students were raised by a single parent, and they had no role models to look up to. This understanding helped me in having the patience to deal with them and empathize with them. It also helped in making the students feel safe and secure around me.
ACCEPTANCE: I decided to accept my students unconditionally, without having any judgements. We know that adolescents often do not like to listen to good advice. However, what works for them is keeping the communication channels open, whereby they are able to share their views. And, the onus is on us as adults to listen to them without having any bias. This has helped me in building their trust and has enabled me to guide and influence their actions. My colleague and I started to spend time in the playground, and, gradually, the girls started playing badminton with us. This small activity reduced the distance between us and enabled us to bond better.
CHALLENGE: I realized that one of the best ways to engage adolescents is to expose them to the world of knowledge and ideas, by giving them challenging tasks and making the learning process an exciting endeavour. I used to update my knowledge by reading up about various topics, such as black holes; Russian spaceships, etc., and I would discuss about these with my students. This way, the students became more engaged in conversations, which were interesting and meaningful. I also assigned tasks to them that made them feel responsible.
I would like to conclude by saying that if we support adolescents in building their identity and help them take their own decisions, their energies can be channelized towards a constructive outcome. One can be assured that teenage students will grow into responsible and dignified adults if they receive sufficient support from a trusted loving adult and if they are made to feel competent and responsible.