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4 Joyful lessons I learned teaching young adults that have helped my parenting, too


Martin Novak | Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 06/28/22

Being a teacher has some surprising advantages far from the classroom.

As a teacher of young adults for the last 18 years, I’ve had the privilege of having hundreds of talented youngsters in my class. While the experience can sometimes be exhausting, at the end of the school year I like to reflect on what I continue to learn from these oft-opinionated, inspiring, loud, and funny individuals.

What has proved interesting is that I have four children myself, two of whom are the same age as my students, and it often surprises me that what I learn in the classroom really helps my relationship with my own 22- and 23-year-olds.

1Young adults really, really care

At home I can easily brush off what my kids are telling me, as I’m up to my eyes in chores, and work. Yet as a language teacher part of my job is to get these students talking, often through debate. They have strong feelings about politics, family life, society, and the environment.

They build intelligent and reasoned arguments that give me a hint of what thoughtful adults they will become, even if I don’t always share their beliefs. And they remind me to take the time to listen and question my own children on matters that count — not to steamroll them with my own ideas, but to help them form their own based on what counts for them.

2They keep us tuned into their generational issues

There’s no doubt that COVID was really hard on the younger generations. Just as they were about to embark on their adult life and find independence, they were forced to stay home. In class I encouraged them to talk about these frustrations, but also their catalog of worries that are mounting up in the current social climate.

These conversations give me a little window into what my own children might be going through — worries or thoughts they may not have put into words but which are there in the background, nagging away without them always realizing.

3They like being needed (honestly)

While teens might get annoyed at being asked to do chores, young adults like to feel needed, perhaps to show their worth. In class I generally encounter a myriad of technical issues. While I think I could muddle through, there’s always a willing student wanting to lend a hand. And this attitude goes beyond tech problems.

Sometimes students will come to class with helpful ideas for each other, me, and even my kids. They want to be helpful members of society and take proper control of their lives. This reminds me that I need to give my older kids adult problems to solve, to help them feel that they’re worthy of my trust and more than capable.

4Our future is in safe hands

Watching my students absorb knowledge and apply it is always a marvel to me — especially as these days I feel my busy brain has turned to marshmallow. They generate ideas at an impressive rate and they begin to realize that they are needed members of society. (I do remind them that I’ll be relying on their generation when I retire, so they have a real challenge ahead!)

This is a message I try to pass on to my own kids, too: That one day my generation will be handing over the reins to them, and I believe they’ll do a fantastic job. It’s important to remember to instill this faith in young adults, so they can have faith in themselves.

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