I’ve had two classes that went completely wrong and taught me a lesson for life. Both were with teen classes where I was substituting for just that session. They were years apart. Since I’d run a teen after-school program that was rewarding for everyone involved, and had experience teaching (and reaching) adults, as well as running business courses for trainees, I thought, “This will be easy. It’s just one lesson. Pick a topic that interests them and give them a productive task”.
Having just my 90 minutes and a very short brief on “where they were in the book”, I launched into my “lesson plans” relatively quickly, extending the subject to areas I thought would be more fun, viz. I had one class creating and marketing a new type of hamburger in groups. The other was given the task of defining the role of dwarves pre-Christmas and writing a letter to Santa to invite him to a meeting and to present their complaints.
But what I totally forgot is that when working with a group of young people, the way in is to build trust by listening, by being there, where they are. These two classes were complete and utter disasters, and I still blush when I think back on them. The hamburger group was so busy texting on their phones (in any language but English) and beating each other up and talking about how hungry they were that I had to let out early so they could run to McDonalds. I found out later that they’d been told they wouldn’t be given jobs with that company just the week before, so their motivation was below zero. What a missed opportunity! The other class just thought I was nuts, and didn’t really make the connection to the business skills they expected me to teach them. That class, I found out later, was mostly intererested in finding out more about living in the US. Instead, I dumped stuff on them, and didn’t even give them a chance.
Third time lucky. Give me another class to substitute in, please.
For a great summary of trust building read Sue Lyon Jones’ post on Ken Wilson’s blog right here.