Growing up I remember seeing Ms. Honey in the movie Matilda and thinking teaching must be a magical job if Ms. Honey could do it so effortlessly. This image of dancing with my students, heart-to-heart conversations, and the perfectly curated teacher outfit always stuck in my mind.
When I decided to become a teacher, my original goal was to teach elementary. I wanted to be that driving force that helped those pudgy little hands learn how to write, sing at the top of their lungs about the seasons, and be there to help with scraped knees.
Over the years I found my actual passion was teaching high school and it caught me off guard. When I tell people I teach freshmen, I usually get one or two responses: “Why?!” or “I don’t know how you do it.” When we think of high schoolers, more specifically freshmen, we think about angst, attitude, and maybe you can even smell the faint scent of AXE body spray.I’m here to tell you that freshmen are not these balls of emotion they seem to be portrayed as. They’re hilarious, witty, a little out of touch, and can be fragile as well.
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Teaching freshmen can be a bit tumultuous at times, just like teaching in general. Given my experience, I have compiled some advice for parents (and educators) as we guide our children through that ever-fateful freshman year.
Remember what you were like as a freshman.
This one may hit home for you, I know it did for me. While I would love to pretend I was the perfect student, I know the truth is I was not. I constantly talked over my teachers, put little effort into assignments, and read my book during class. Putting yourself back in those 14-year-old shoes may help with understanding some of the choices they make. Remember, their frontal lobes (responsible decision-making) are yet to be developed. Hearing that their parents also struggled can give a sense of camaraderie and calm.
Be present—even if they say they don’t want you to be.
When I was a freshman I had a hard time getting to class (in reality I just didn’t want to stop talking with my friends). My dad showed up to school and walked me to my classes for the whole day. I can assure you, I was never tardy again! While at the moment I was absolutely mortified, looking back now I’m thankful he did that. Being present as a parent doesn’t mean you have to walk your kid to class, but it does mean you need to be involved. Keep up on their grades, help them with homework assignments, contact their teachers for check-ins, and attend those extracurricular activities. Even if you can’t make each event, the effort will be seen by your child.
Find time to talk.
I fully understand that teens can be hard to connect with. Their music is weird, their phones are perpetually glued to their hands, and their eyes roll back more times than one can count. All those things aside, setting time aside to have casual conversations (read: not a lecture) is vital for building a strong foundation. Lead by example, set your phone down, turn off the TV and delve into what interests your child. Harry Styles and Bad Bunny may not be on your Spotify playlist, but I’m sure you can muster the energy to listen to the albums that interest your kid.
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While I can go on and on about tips for parents from a teacher’s perspective, time is always fleeting. My path didn’t take me to be Ms. Honey, but I think it took me somewhere better. Instead of the iconic scenes we recall when we think of the perfect elementary teacher, I get to be something even better: a high school teacher. I get to listen to good music during the passing period, have meaningful conversations about topics that are actually interesting, and keep up to date with slang and fashion trends.
Freshmen, and teens in general, are confusing creatures, but they are interesting and deserve the support of those around them. So be present, be open, and be interested.