I love telling people I teach Grade 8 or Grade 9. I love seeing the WIDE range of reactions that come with that news. Many feel that I am crazy to be working with students this age, “little hormone bags” was the comment. Others are intimidated by adolescents, citing “poor attitudes” and “smart mouths”. Many parents share with me that its the toughest age to deal with for them. I have of course seen my share of angry teenagers who don’t know how to deal with their anger in a healthy way. I have seen self involved students who are totally unaware of their impact on others or their environment. I have been called a few foul names and had my tough days like anyone else, but make no mistake: It’s my favorite age to work with. This week reminded me again why.
One of my favorite things about students this age is how many will put on the facade of being aloof or above whatever it is we are doing. They are way too cool to be excited about anything, especially anything happening at school. Younger kids are still openly excited about things that happen at school, and older students are comfortable enough in their own skin to be honest about how they feel about what they are doing (I generalize). In the midst of a fairly simple lab exercise, testing the solubility of some common household items (salt, sugar, baking soda) the engagement of the moment broke down many of those faux-apathetic stone faces and gave way to smiles, wide eyes and excitement. When all the groups had reported their solubility values, and we had averaged the numbers for the class it was time to reveal the expected values for the three solutes. When the students saw how close they got to the real solubility of sodium chloride (salt), glucose (sugar) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), genuine “oohs” and “aahs” and exuberant comments filled the room. They forgot about being above all of it and let down their guard.
I am someone that loves a challenge, and getting genuine reactions of any kind out of Gr. 8 and Gr. 9 students is a challenge. Trying to make them laugh (with you not at you), trying to get them to see outside of their small bubble, or trying to get them to really care about their education is tough. I prefer tough, I like having to work for student engagement or excitement.When the right learning opportunity is presented, these “tough nuts” will crack and they will get excited about their learning. They just won’t want you to tell anybody.