A lot of times I'll think to myself "Aww it must be so hard being a teenager" in a "that's adorable" kind of way. I watch my students freak out over the smallest things, cry over what I see as not a big deal, or get angry over something I see as childish. Teenagers are emotional...we all know that. As adults we can look back on our own adolescence and think "man I really thought that breakup was the end of the world for me" or "getting a D in physics really crushed my soul back then", but as adults we know life only gets more complicated, and being in high school really wasn't so bad after all.
But here's the thing....being a teenager really IS hard! And I think it has to do with how we teach (or don't teach) kids about emotions and feelings.
Think back to when you were a teenager. Was there ever a time when a trusted adult or teacher genuinely asked you about how you're feeling and helped you process through that emotion? As a teacher, it's tempting to pretend like feelings don't affect the students. We tell ourselves....We have to get through the material, and quick. I have high expectations for my students, they should be able to self-regulate, It's not my job to be their parent/counselor, I'm responsible for teaching biology first- there's no time for feelings. Alright then, have fun when that one angry kid decides she can't take it anymore, punches somebody/something, and runs away. Or worse, refuses to come back to school.
Social-emotional teaching is something we hear more often at the elementary levels. When a second grader feels angry, she'll get in a physical fight or throw something. She'll have a physically dangerous reaction, it's explosive, distracting, and noticeable (just google "room clear" for the worst case scenario...) We sit little elementary kids in a circle and talk about how we're feeling. We help them process their emotions through show and tell and morning meetings. We help them identify their emotions, accept them, and talk about them. We have to do this if any productive learning is going to happen in an elementary classroom. I once got attacked by an angry fourth grader with scissors.....but I'll save that story for another blog post.
But what about the high school level? For some reason, we stop talking about feelings and throw the kids into 100% academic mode. We start telling ourselves we have "high expectations" for students, which we translate to mean zero tolerance policies and zero tolerance classroom management. But we can't ignore the feelings, they're still there, even though teenagers have been conditioned to (and are really good at) hiding their feelings. And feelings are powerful. No wonder why so many teenagers get in trouble with drugs, mental health, and suicide.
Social-emotional teaching has a place at the high school level, across all content areas, in every classroom.
I had my seniors and sophomores circle how they're feeling as a class. Here's what two of my classes came up with.
At first I wasn't sure how the students would respond to this activity. Teachers don't care about feelings! Right? I would be skeptical for sure if I were them.
The students actually ended up loving this activity and were more than eager to circle everything they were feeling (a handful of kids circled the entire wheel). We talked about what it means to identify a feeling, and what we can do when we need to address a feeling like anger in class.
Moving forward, I wonder how I can reframe my teaching in a way that acknowledges the fact that feelings do matter and the effects of feelings are magnified when you cram 30 exhausted teenagers in a small classroom and make them do Chemistry together.
Some ideas to start....