The Key to Understanding Teens

Understanding your students is the key to good teaching, and when it comes to teaching high school students, you’ll need to hold onto the key that unlocks the teenage mind all the time. To me, that key is awareness. You’ll need it not only to survive the insanity teenagers bring into the classroom sometimes, but also to remind yourself that although their bodies are adult size, they have the mind of a child. With the key of awareness in mind and with my high school teaching experience, I’ve derived a list of tips and bits of advice for understanding your high school students.

1. The mind of any teen is not completely developed.

This fact is difficult to keep in mind, but when you begin to realize that you’re dealing with the mind of a child, there will be more peace in your classroom. Remember it’s only their body that’s adult size, but their mind isn’t finished developing into the maturity they will hopefully achieve with teachers and other adults like you who understand them completely and unconditionally too. Behaving In strange ways or acting insane is not something a teenager does to confuse you, but it’s often true that teachers at the secondary level come home at the end of a day so confused that their frustration becomes a major head ache. Don’t forget what you know to be true. You can’t expect teenage minds to comprehend how important you are to them, but be that way anyway. Teach them through you, how to be an understanding and tolerant human being.

We teachers can do this by being aware there’s a child within that adult size body who needs the comfort and protection you’d provide for any child under your care. Don’t humiliate any teen for any reason, and especially not in the presence of their peers. Just be consistently serene and don’t allow a child to manipulate your mind into doing childish things that teachers submit to sometimes, like screaming, shouting, being sarcastically cruel as an act of revenge to the teen who seems to be asking for it. Remember that you are to be above childish ways of behaving, and soon you’ll see a new understanding of how to teach them too.

Teenage minds like to play games and they like to hear you say, “Hooray,” when they win. They love for you to read out-loud to them, like any child would. They want to answer your questions and they like to pretend, so play games, pretend and read to your teens in high school classrooms too, just as you would with any group of children. No matter what they say or don’t say, they need you to see the child inside them anyway.

2. Be aware of the teen who pretends not to care.

I’ve seen some teachers who tend to be too intimidated by an apathetic mind. It happens all the time. It’s the teen who sits in the back of the room and if he’s not sleeping with his head on the desk, he’s mocking you. No one can ruin your lesson plan faster than he can, so you pretend not to notice him. You might ignore him, while praying he’ll sit quietly and at least allow you to teach. Still, somewhere deep inside you’re aware of the truth about all teens. There is no such thing as a teen who doesn’t care. Just being aware of that fact makes you a better teacher. The only reason you’ll need to beware of is the danger of not understanding why the child you choose to ignore needs you to care the most.

When you find the spirit inside the teenage mind, you’ll begin to see the child who needs you desperately. He needs you to pay attention. He needs you to listen. He wants you to step in and take action. Whatever you do to assist a child who resists must persist until he becomes aware that you care. Once that happens, you’ll see a whole new side to the teen that’s always been there, but just hiding.

3. Find the teens motivational key.

The key to motivating any teen is to find out what makes them tick. What is the teen passionate about? Does he love trucks and engines? Is she obsessed with rock bands? Does he listen to music on an I-pod all day? Are they computer freaks? Whatever it is the teen is interested in, use it to your advantage instead of allowing the teen to use it to keep from learning. What a teen is interested in can be a distraction for him unless you are wise and use that thing, whatever it is, as a teaching tool instead. Use your ingenuity to find lesson plans which use your student’s interest as a way to motivate the teen into learning what you teach. Understanding what your students think, do, say, look at and listen to can only help you teach in a more effective way.

4. Teens don’t like to be bored.

Believe me. There’s no way to motivate a teen by lecturing, no matter what you say and how well you say it. The more you talk in class, the more your students will talk, sleep, doodle, wiggle or squirm in their seat. In fact, a teacher’s speech should be no more than five minutes at any given time. Otherwise, you’ll find a classroom full of bored to tears teens who can’t wait to leave your classroom. Instead, build a few learning stations in your room, with appropriate teaching tools and those keys to motivating teens, along with a few things for the students to actually do.

Teachers who choose to stand before the class as if the students were an audience make big mistakes which those kinds of teachers never seem to resolve. Teens are human beings, after all, and there’s no such thing and no such lecture that will be so completely interesting that any human being will want to sit quietly in their seat to listen to and learn anything while they do.

5. All high school students are insane to a degree, but only insane in a normal way.

When it comes to teenage students, I call that time of life, “The phase of normal insanity.” Although it’s not a scientific definition by any means, it doesn’t take an Einstein mind to understand how crazy teens seem to be. They live within a hormonal existence where nothing they do or say makes sense to anyone but them. They are lost and alone in a Twilight Zone all their own, so unless you can comprehend the complexity of being a teen, you’ll never be able to even find their normal mind, much less teach them anything.

Instead of using their insanity as an excuse not to do what you know you need to do to reach the insane teen inside their normal minds, try to listen to them as if you were insane too. Their explanations of why they do what they do or say what they say may not make any sense to you, but when you are able to understand and see through the teen’s eyes, that’s when you’ll be wise when it comes to teaching normally insane teens. They’ll be more likely to listen to your wisdom too, if you accept them as being normal no matter how crazy it seems. Don’t fall into the trap that teens use for shock value. Be wise to the times and hip to what kids do so they can’t fool you.


Your effort in understanding your secondary students will pay off in the end, when you begin to see them moving beyond those crazy things they do, and since you hold the key to their learning, one day soon they will all appreciate you. With this in mind all the time, I’d like to say in my former high school teacher way, thank you for what you do and for taking the time to read this article of mine. Bravo to you and I hope I’ve given you at least a few of the keys to understanding your students.