How My Silence Gets Teenagers to Listen


By Nick Mcdaniels — I love this time of year as a high school teacher.

Of course, an impending break, the chance to wear goofy holiday ties, and the annual staff pot-luck are all great things. But what I really love is seeing former students. Those that have gone away to school somewhere, or who are still living in the area, as most are, seem to always reappear this time of year. They visit the school, visit my class. I see them at the store. It is a lot of fun catching up. But what I have really learned is to take advantage of their presence, particularly when I’m teaching.

Every single time a former student appears in my classroom while I’m teaching, I immediately stop what I’m doing and let them tell their story. I ask them questions. And I allow my current students to ask them questions.

What is college like? What job do you have? Do you have your own place? Do you get to party a lot?

Invariably, they all tell the students the same thing that I have been telling them (and that my teachers told me, but I failed to believe).

“Doing well in high school is important,” they say.

“I wish I would have paid attention more.” “If my GPA would have been higher, I would have gotten scholarships.” “College is hard.” “I don’t have time to party.”

And my current students: they soak up every word, asking more and more questions. How many times as teachers, parents, mentors, have we tried to say the same things to students, watching the wisdom go in one ear and out the other.

But what I have learned, along with the joy of getting to see my former students, is that if I really want to get a message across to my current students, like the importance of effort, like the importance of school, like the importance of staying focused, I need to remain silent, and let their peers do the talking. That’s the best way to get teenagers to listen to me.

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