I have a confession to make: I'm scared of teenagers. I have been since before I was a teenager myself. When I was a teenager, I was a homeschooled geek who avoided risky, impulsive, or rebellious activities. I never understood my peers and I knew they didn't think much of me. I was tremendously relieved to reach adulthood, where people were expected to behave the way I typically behaved (well, sort of.) But going back to interact with a group of teenagers has always been challenging for me.
First of all, I have flashbacks to my years of feeling profoundly uncool and entirely failing to make positive connections with teens when they were my peers. Second, I feel like I'm lacking the skills to present myself as a credible figure. I can't relate to them; I don't understand what drives them or where they're coming from. (Weirdly, this is not an issue for me when working with three-year-olds. I totally get three-year-olds.) I prefer a very relational teaching style, and feeling like I can't relate to an entire age demographic really sets me back.
This is not specifically about teenagers: I'm guessing others have some populations that they feel really awkward, uncomfortable, or nervous teaching to. I'm wondering how you deal with that? My instinct is to overprepare, even more than I would normally, so that I'm never stuck without something to say. To know my material absolutely cold so that there's one less thing I'll be nervous about. To go into a performative mode where I'm less responsive to the room and more focused on the presentation itself. I don't know that this is the best approach, but it's the one that reduces my anxiety, and I feel like it makes sense to play down the relational aspect of teaching if I don't feel like I can relate. But then it feels like I'm withdrawing and giving them less than my best just because of my own issues.
What do others think? Are there populations that you have a hard time teaching to, and how do you handle that?
Edit: After doing some online research, I found a few links that were helpful and reassuring. (Also, your comments are making me feel a lot better about this!) I found a couple of blogs of teachers who have generalized social anxiety, which is very reassuring to me: if people who are anxious around any population can teach, then I can teach to teenagers. Especially helpful was this post by littlemissteacherlady about applying teaching strategies to her own struggles with anxiety, by setting manageable and concrete learning objectives. I'd never thought of it that way before, but there can definitely be an aspect of self-teaching in terms of the way I teach, and (just as I wouldn't with a student) I don't have to expect myself to soar to "totally comfortable and at home" levels right from the get-go.
I found a great blog post from a black educator talking about her experiences of discomfort teaching groups of white people. Some of the things she says about overcoming it were helpful to me, such as recognizing that a lot of the feeling of "I'm out of place and they're all wondering why I think I have anything to say to them" is self-imposed, based on past experiences and not on anything the students in front of you are doing. I think treating every new classroom of teenagers as a blank slate would be helpful to me, rather than assuming that they're judging me as sooo lame just because that's what lots of teenagers have done in the past.
This article was neat, a teacher talking about how she relates to her students' academic struggles by comparing them with her own athletic struggles. It reminded me that even though my teenagerhood was very different from most people's, I may have analogous experiences, and that I can be creative in looking to find ways to relate.
Overall, I feel like I can take my current strategy (overprepare and shift to a more performative style) as a starting point, but work to expand my approach as I work with different groups of teenagers, so that maybe in a few years they won't be scary at all!