I was recently at a party to celebrate a high school teenager's birthday with my husband. The gathering was pretty well split, with the adults congregating in one area and the teenagers peacefully keeping their own space in another. At one point I noticed a puzzled expression on my husband's face as he watched the teens chatting away. As he soaked in the adolescence, he remarked how rarely he is around this age group and how quickly one can forget what it is like to be a teenager. I snickered as I often do when I want him to know how hard my job is; and I thought how opposite a high school teacher's world is to other adults.
Those of us that work in high schools can't escape the sights, sounds, and smells of teenage years. It has become the norm to witness all of their quirky behaviors and we forget sometimes how the rest of the world deals with daily experiences. I truly enjoy teaching this age group. I love that my students can simultaneously LOVE and HATE everything, and that making a mountain out of a mole hill is as common as getting out of bed in the morning. Most of the time I have patience for the stubbornness they throw at me, however, over the years I have been consistently disappointed when students fail to show gratitude.
I hold the door open for them; they walk through. I hand out paper with really useful, well-thought-out information for their little brains to soak in; they groan. I bring in a box of donuts to celebrate the end of a big project; they scarf them down without ensuring that everyone received one.
My knowledge of this age group armors me with understanding, however I find that saying "thank you" is the least of my concerns. I fear that students in this age group are having a difficult time feeling gratitude enough to understand that they can show it.
This concern prompted one of the lessons in my Life Skills unit. Depending on the materials available, the end product is either a terrarium or a sculptural card. The lesson requires discussion, or it may become a superficial exercise in merely saying thank you. My goal is to give the students the opportunity to think about the things in their lives that they feel grateful for in a deeper way than the common thanksgiving day project. I often ask my students what are some of the things in their lives that they feel they can't live without. I encourage them to reflect on the reason they would be affected by this absence. More often than not, it comes down to a handful of people that the students feel strongly grateful for. They observe that there are little and big things that they can show gratitude for and find that if they do it more, it may come back to them as well.
This project can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. The result might be a slightly more polite group of teenagers with really cool sculptural cards or you may help a few kids get through their teenage years feeling really grateful for their mountains and molehills.
Here's the lesson.
I have been teaching art and design at the middle and high school level since 2006 and learning about both for a lot longer.