YOUTH IN FOCUS: I graduated recently and became a high-school teacher.  I thought that I would be good at teaching, but actually the students drive me crazy. They talk in class, joke around and some even seem to be taking drugs. I feel that I want to quit my job, but then all my training is wasted. Please advise.

Going crazy in school

Hi “Going Crazy in School”. Well, maybe your expectations are too high. Youth are supposed to be a little out of control.  This is their time to test boundaries. Like a puppy, they are naturally playful, and also a little clumsy and mischievous. Rather than blocking this energy, it would be best to try and work with their craziness.

Think of youth-energy like a wild river flowing down the mountain side. Trying to block it would be like building a wall to stop the fast flowing water.  It will require constant maintenance to hold it in place, and finally the barrier will be broken down by the pressure. Instead, it would be better to channel the energy. Let your students keep their wildness, but guide it so that it is constructive rather than destructive. Like a river, it can either destroy life or nurture it. 

Also, there is no benefit in trying to suppress their wild energy. All too soon, many of your students will grow up and become obsessed with fame, praise, gain and the pursuit of personal pleasure. As a result, their playful, spontaneous character will likely be replaced by a mental heaviness that is caused by a fear of failing to obtain or hold on to these four desires.      

Personally, I suggest that rather than getting stressed by your students, try changing your perception of your duties. A teacher’s job is to teach whoever comes in the door of the classroom. It is not only to teach quiet and bright students, but to educate every single kid who enters the classroom. This is where the challenge lies. It is an opportunity to put your skills as a teacher into practice.

Actually, most human suffering would greatly decrease if we could just accept reality and change our reaction accordingly. Generally, we are like a man who arrives in a room at night and sees a snake in the corner. He panics and spends the entire night wondering whether to run, attack the snake or just stand still. When the first light of day pours into the room and the object can be seen more clearly, he realises that it is not a snake at all, but a coil of rope. As a result of recognising the true situation, he relaxes.   

Basically, pain comes from not having the right view of life. Like the man who mistook the rope for a snake, we misunderstand our positions as teachers, parents, waiters or whatever. If we can just embrace our roles fully, we will not feel disturbed by certain aspects of our jobs. In the case of a teacher, this means accepting every single child who joins the class. Therefore, to remove your suffering, I suggest that you change your perception, not your job.

With regard to the kids, obviously the ones you suspect of taking drugs need immediate intervention. I am personally always prepared to talk to any youth who is getting into trouble. In addition, you should request your school counsellor to meet with them. As a teacher, it is important that you act promptly, because once a youth becomes an addict it is a long and tough journey to regain their life. Also, you should remember that youth get into drugs for many reasons.  While some kids start using drugs just for fun, others may take drugs to block out the pain of living in a broken or abusive family. Others, on the other hand, might be unskilled at facing problems, and drugs offer them an easy escape. Consequently, different responses are required to help them. There is no one method that works for every situation.     

As for the kids personalities, try to use their traits rather than suppress them. Noisy students could be encouraged to narrate stories or to organise debates. Disruptive youth could perhaps divert their energy into sports or arranging events. As I said earlier, try to encourage a student to channel their energy, not suppress it.

Of course, discipline is important and so youth definitely need to be aware that their action and attitude will affect those around them. In this respect, they should be taught that there is a time to talk and a time to listen, a time to play and a time to study.    

Anyway, from your point of view, you should accept all your students equally, and only your outer response should differ according to needs. Maybe this example is helpful. In the summer, the temperature is warm and so we wear thin clothes, whereas the winter is cold and so we wear thicker clothes. Even though our outer response differs, we accept the temperature change as natural. Basically, we don’t get angry and upset at the weather, but adapt our response according to its changes. This is similar to how teachers should respond to their students. You adapt our teaching methods to suit their various needs, but you remain calm because you recognise that in a class there will always be students of different ability and temperament, and, as a teacher, it is your job to teach all of them – not only the quiet and intelligent ones.  I hope that makes sense.         

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.

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