Friday, December 8, 2017

How to Connect with Teens: From Their Point of View!

I was recently asked by an itinerant teacher of the deaf in California for strategies to help her connect with the teenage students on her caseload (fellow teachers of the deaf—you know this scenario well!) I shared my strategies, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to know what my own students would say. 

My students in grades 8-11 were more than happy to share what’s worked for them, and what has been challenging with the various TODs they’ve had. Some of these students I see every week, and some just once a month. While younger students are generally excited to see their TOD, eager to leave the room to go work and confident in their abilities; as they get older, students (even those without hearing loss!) often become more reserved and reluctant to openly display their differences. So, a special thank you to my fabulous teens for contributing to this post!

Here’s what they had to say:

“We have hearing loss so we’ve had to deal with a lot. We’re more mature because of that.”
Set reasonably high expectations for all students, including teens. When our students know that we believe in them, they’re more willing to work through academic and social challenges rather than resisting or insisting that everything is “fine.”

“Don’t be over enthusiastic. Like, when you come in the room, you’re not like, ‘HEY! What are you doing?’ in a little kid voice. You talk to me like I’m an adult.”  
Our students can sometimes be perceived as less developed than their peers with typical hearing, or needing more support than they really do. Remembering to treat them as we would treat any other teenager leads to mutual respect rather than babying older students who will become resentful.

“When you come in the room to observe, you just sit in the back. Usually I’m talking to my friends and then I’ll look back and be like, ‘Oh! Ms. Stinson’s here’ and I can talk to you or wave or whatever but you don’t interrupt me.”
Most teenagers do not want to stand out and having a TOD around can be embarrassing or uncomfortable, no matter how cool we think we are! I generally speak when spoken to! I’ll sit in the back as my student commented, rather than making it obvious who I am there to see. This way I am able to respect my student’s space and boundaries. I generally find that they do interact with me once they’re comfortable, and they understand that I’m not going to draw extra attention. 

We used to only meet in [special education teacher’s] room and then I’d go to class. Now I don’t care though; you can come to my class!”  
For some students—especially if the TOD relationship is new—making arrangements to meet in a private space (versus me going to the class to pull the student out) is more comfortable since again, no extra attention is drawn to the student.

You don’t just care about my cochlear implants. You always ask about the other stuff I do, and like, weekends and friends and stuff.”
Even though time can feel crunched—especially with students who I only see monthly—every minute counts and I always want to get as much information as I can about classes and amplification. However, trusting relationships need to be more than just “Tell me why you don't want to wear your receivers anymore.” I’m genuinely interested in my students and their lives, and when they know that, they’re more willing to discuss topics related to hearing loss and challenges as well. It’s worth it to take that time to build meaningful connections and trust so that my teens see me as more than just the FM police.

While I enjoy all of my students, my teenagers are almost always my favorites. How do you connect with your teens?