When I first started teaching I was 22 years old. And you guys. I have a straight-up baby face. Now even 5 years later it’s like my face is frozen in time. I therefore get mistaken as a student frequently, which my students find hilarious. But I digress.
Even now when I tell people I teach high school seniors, they’re usually either impressed or surprised. “I could never teach seniors! That’d be too scary” they say. I find this really interesting, especially because I actually find the elementary age kids more scary (and germy). And they almost always bring up my youthful appearance. The implication, I think, is that I can’t be respected by teenagers because I look like one.
This post is not meant to hate on these people who ask these questions. Quite the opposite. I actually find it kind of funny that the older the students get, the more afraid people seem to be when it comes to teaching them. But in my opinion, the best kept secret is that teaching seniors is the easiest.
Trust me. I’ve taught every grade in high school. I’ve even taught 8th grade. And to me, sophomores are actually the toughest group (and I totally love them, don’t worry). But seniors? They’re great. Here’s why.
- They have a much longer attention span. Not so much in May of their senior year. But for the most part, they can pay attention to long discussions like the ones we engage with during Socratic Seminars. You don’t have to fight so much for their attention- they’re older and can handle it for the most part.
- You can have real conversations with them. Like actually interesting, adult-level conversations with back-and-forth. You just don’t get that with sophomores (though juniors are okay at it). They even get things like nuance. So as you’re teaching Econ you can discuss slightly different perspectives on government involvement in the Economy and they track with you. It’s a beautiful thing.
- You can give them more ownership of their learning. Now I firmly believe that every grade level can and should take ownership of their learning. But seniors take it a step further. They want to dig into the real world concepts. They want to know how the world works because they’re about to enter it full steam ahead. They’ll ask real, interesting questions that will challenge you.
- You can go deeper. They’ve accumulated so much knowledge from their previous years in high school that you don’t have to lay as much foundation before you teach something new. For example, most of my kids already know what communism is so when I go into types of economies, I don’t have to spend a day explaining Karl Marx. I just have to give a quick refresher and they’re good to go.
Now. Don’t misunderstand me. I actually love sophomores and juniors too. It’s just that seniors are unique in their awesomeness. And I want to share that enthusiasm. So if you’re going into your first year teaching seniors, don’t be too worried. They’re a great group.