Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: Teenagers 101 by Rebecca Deurlein

Teenagers 101Teenagers 101 by Rebecca Deurlein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on her experience as a high school English teacher, Rebecca Deurlein shares strategies for preparing teens for adulthood complete with the science behind motivation and sample scripts for the very nervous parent.

Dr. Deurlein offers sound advice on many areas that don't get discussed often enough in education: is an AP class always the best option? What do you mean my child might not need (or want to) go to college? If my kid takes a gap year, what is she to do?

One of the best chapters in the book is about AP versus regular classes because it gives a frank explanation of what they are, the "tracks" that remain in schools (even though students aren't officially tracked.) She also explains the difference between IB (International Baccalaureate) programs and the regular curriculum.

I hope that parents who read Teenagers 101 can stick with the book in spite of the resistance that may creep up, especially when it comes to helping kids accept responsibility for their actions. The translation of this being, "Demonstrate that blaming teachers/coaches/or anyone else for their bad decisions" won't be tolerated. Bad teachers are out there, and they can make a class that is already challenging nearly impossible. One common denominator I have seen in almost all complaints even against college professors is a student who has a pattern of finding fault with anyone who gives him less than an A on anything. For this type of student, it's a pyrrhic victory. He might leave high school by arguing his way into a 4.0 and driving the adults around him insane, but that behavior will get caught in college and he will drop out. Blaming others for poor decisions has a way of catching up with us. Dr. Deurlein gives a particularly chilling example of a boy who went after his history teacher because she held him to a deadline for an assignment---just like the rest of her class. What amazed me about this story is that his parents never thought to question his ulterior motives for claiming this teacher was totally unreasonable or after receiving that grade, saying that she was completely incompetent. It's frightening that parents can force a teacher to extend a deadline for a student without even doing a real investigation of their own by talking to the teacher and observing so they can get the whole story.

I am not sure how all the testing and "student-centered" policies have turned schools and colleges into Starbucks of learning. There's a general attitude among students and parents that the teachers are just there to find something that makes students and parents happy. Well, I think most professionals working in education like happy students, and given the choice between two equally viable options will try to go with the one most likely to have happiness as an added bonus. Unfortunately, some subject matter just doesn't make people happy, but needs to be covered anyway. The misconception about consequences for teachers that come out of complaints is frightening. Keep in mind that teachers are poorly paid, may or may not ever get tenure, and have to jump through more and more hoops, and work more and more time for FREE to educate kids. Plus, they work under a microscope, so if anyone says something about them, regardless of how ridiculous it might be, that can do permanent damage to an already thankless career. Even at that, the biggest losers in these situations are the students because they miss an opportunity to learn about the consequences of their actions by making someone else bear them. Sometimes, these petty complaints can also deprive a future generation of students access to an excellent teacher who happened to have a budding sociopath in the classroom.

The only chapter I'm a bit unenthused about is on parent-teacher conferences. Dr. Deurlein actually makes fun of parents of good students who carefully monitor their student's progress and insist on attending these conferences. To make matters worse, Dr. Deurlein points out that parents "who don't need to be there" are taking away a slot from parents who should be there, wait until the last-minute, and complain that they wanted to attend conference, but couldn't because of (choose one): illness, child care, work, dishes, pandas, etc. Do you know how I know about these excuses? Those parents were my community college students. The ones who say those things are the parents modeling for their kids that the best way to handle a tough assignment is to whine until the professor gives you a reprieve and if that doesn't work, whine to every administrator who will listen until someone gives you what you want. So, responsible parents who have fostered good study habits in their kids should step aside so someone like that can book an appointment they won't book anyway? Um, no. That chapter seemed like gratuitous teacher whining.

Overall though, even with that one annoying chapter, this is an excellent book on preparing teens for adulthood, and helping parents prepare themselves to be parents of adults and stop treating their teens like children. It's also one of the first parenting books I've seen that emphasizes how to help students get the most out of school, and for that alone, it's worth the read.

Teenagers 101 by Rebecca Deurlein, Ed.D. is published by AMACOM and will be available for purchase on November 13, 2014 for $16 (paperback.)

I received no compensation for this review.

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