Teaching teenagers is an extremely rewarding experience, and I’m thankful to have been working steadily as a high school teacher for the past three years. One of the obstacles that I face as a high school teacher, however, is the fact that I look like I could be a high school student! I am short! I am Asian! And I am immature, which definitely doesn’t help my case.
If you’re a young, 20-something year old teacher of adolescents, then this post is for you! I present to you, 5 Fail-Safe Ways to Exert Authority in the Classroom and Trick Your Students Into Thinking You’re Way Older Than Them!
1. Wear your keys around your neck.
You can’t stick your keys in your back pocket like a hip teenager; you need to hang them around your neck in an uncool fashion! The jingling of the keys against your belly also warns students that someone of authority is approaching!
2. Wear a blazer.
Most students don’t wear blazers, so you automatically look older when you put on one of these bad boys! I also just feel more adult, professional, and put together when I wear a blazer.
3. Don’t use a backpack.
This is actually a really important tip! For the first year or two of my career, I wore a backpack to work, and I blended in effortlessly with the Grade 12 students. The day I realized something needed to change was in the middle of my second year of teaching. I was going to be absent the next day, so I had stayed late at school to make plans for my supply teacher. When I was done working, I gathered up all of my things into my backpack, slung it over my shoulder, grabbed my plans, and snuck into the portapack where my classroom was situated. As I entered my classroom and moved towards the desk, I heard the door open and a gruff voice growl, “Hey! You can’t be in here!” I whipped around and there was an angry-looking caretaker staring at me as he disposed of the trash. “I’m a teacher!” I whimpered. “I’m just here to drop off my supply plans!” And I feebly held up my folders and worksheets. He half-apologized and I cursed my backpack all the way home, sad and embarrassed.
I don’t bring too much physical work home since most of my work is done on the computer, so a huge backpack really isn’t necessary anymore. Now, I use a fancy tote bag from Chapters! My right shoulder hates me, but at least I’ll never be mistaken for a student again!!!
Here is a photo of my trusty bag! To keep things somewhat organized, I use a laptop sleeve which I purchased on Etsy from a shop called Made by Julie. It’s got cute little cacti on it!
4. Make obnoxious comments about what life was like when you were your students’ age (even if you’re not that much older).
I try to widen the age gap between me and my students by trying to refer to a lack of certain technologies or social media apps in my youth, or by beginning my stories by saying, “Back when I was your age …” In some ways, I do feel quite a bit older than them. The world has changed a lot in the last decade since I was in high school, and kids these days seem a lot different from what I was like when I was their age. Or maybe I was just really nerdy and my high school experience doesn’t represent the norm. (Sad!)
5. Be confident!
Don’t forget – you are a teacher! Tell off that kid for swearing in the halls! Remind your students to remove their hats and pull up their pants! You are in that school to be a role model and a mentor and a caring adult for these students, no matter what you look like. So be glad for your job, and remember that you have been placed in that important position of authority, despite how young you look.
In many ways, I am thankful that I’m close in age to my students. My students are generally pretty relaxed around me, which makes our classroom environment feel safer and more welcoming. Earlier in my career, I wanted to be more strict and have a firm hand on student behaviour, but I think what works for me is simply being myself – chill with the responsible and well-behaved students, and a little bit more naggy and annoying when I need students to pay attention or hand stuff in. I approach student-teacher interactions from a more gentle standpoint rather than an offensive one, and I think this youthful kindness helps students to see that I am truly there to help them. I don’t know how my relationship with my students will change as I age, but for now, I am super happy with my job and I really enjoy working with my crazy kids!