Adolescence

What significant issues does puberty and adolescent development present in your classroom?
 
Fortunately for me (but not accidentally) puberty and adolescence should not be a dominant factor at my chosen 5th grade level. However, with 5th grade students varying from ages nine to twelve, adolescent issues will occur in my classroom. In addition, puberty casts a long shadow, as does the culture we live in, exposing children to behavior models beyond their years.
One major aspect of adolescence that will occur in 5th grade will be the students’ struggle for independence. Unlike earlier grade levels, teacher leadership and mentoring will need to accommodate the students’ growing need to be seen as separate and self-sufficient. Accompanying this need will be a growing tendency to use peer group reflection to measure self-worth. Body issues, self-esteem issues, confusion about friendship and dating, and perhaps the beginnings of experimentation in adult risk behaviors (e.g. drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex) may occur. As individuation begins to bite at home, parents will become generally more disempowered. Thus, as adolescence accelerates, the relationship between student, teacher and parent will change. This will place increasing reliance on the direct relationship of teacher to student to drive academic performance.

 

Obviously, the first step for a teacher of young adolescence is to understand the nature of adolescence and its implications in the classroom. Beyond that, the opportunity exists to create positive outcomes by honoring adolescence as a life transition. The curriculum can be interwoven with literature, art, and history chosen to give the students a sense of continuity and kinship with a developmental experience common to all. Gentle transitions and opportunities to succeed should be the operating mode. Supporting self-esteem and acknowledging the challenges of puberty creates a safer environment in which to adapt to the rapidly occurring internal changes. Adolescence is a time where connectedness, meaningful learning, and emotional (and physical) safety are particularly helpful to students. The 5th grade teacher in many ways launches students on their journey of adolescent expansion. Accepting that and creating the transitions, understanding, and support to empower the experience are my intentions as regards adolescence in my classroom.

References

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology. (2001). Normal adolescent development part I. Retrieved February 12, 2010, from http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/normal_adolescent_development_part_i
Bee, H., & Boyd, B. (2007). The developing child (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Berliner, B. (1993). Adolescence, school transitions, and prevention: A research-based primer. Western Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED387746). Retrieved February 12, 2010 from EBSCOHost ERIC database, Portland, OR.
Esquith, R. (2003). There are no shortcuts. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

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