Can a difference in age between student and teacher create behavioural issues?

I worked with a very diverse group of Level 4 students (first year) on their BA (Hons) Fine Art degree up until Christmas, and I admit that I wrongly assumed that I'd have more trouble with the younger members of the group. On the first day the more mature students were dismissive and only when I captured their attention did they ask quite blunt questions about me. After that initial period it settled down considerably, and only one student remained behaving in a disruptive manner at times.

I am about to start with a new group (Level 5) after Christmas. Does anyone have any ideas or suggestions to limit this behaviour and create a positive learning environment?

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I've had issues with people I've had to manage in the past who were older than me, I found when I met people I needed to be confident and relaxed, in some ways showing them that I had authority and I wasn't intimidated by this group of people a lot older than me. Not to be arrogant or throw my weight around, but older people would try and intimidate me and they thought they knew better simply as they were older and what could they learn from someone younger. So I would show them that everyone's opinion and thoughts count and if needing people to lead or assist me, I would get younger people involved, showing that they may be younger than me, but I value what they have to offer and say. I would mix people up so a variety of age ranges in a group, so people didn't stay in there cliques and could see what others had to offer.

I would say be confident in your body language and your voice, if something goes wrong, laugh it off and carry on, show that doesn't matter and no one gets it right all the time. It might be that they don't see what's in it for them, they don't see the value in what's being done, especially if they've done it before; make it relate to their goals.

Yes I researched how to deal with disruptive behaviour quite early on so I wasn't caught out. I only had to use these techniques once to a group of girls in the drawing room and it seemed to set an example for the remainder of the group. They treated me less as a friend and more as a teacher. The way in which they communicated and interacted with me from that point was so much more respectful. There is one mature student who still talks through each lesson, I have observed this with other tutors in their classes too, and I don't think this will change.

I think I was looking for a way to eliminate or reduce these tensions in the first weeks of working with a new group, however in hindsight that period of getting to know your students and visa versa, building the trust and working relationship takes time, and these negative assumptions from learners older than myself may simply be part of it. I didn't treat them any differently, I continued to try to support them in any way required, however I wonder if they had been more open and accepting, I may have been able to help them more.

I've had problems with some of the younger students. I have a 38 year old in my class who has learning difficulties who I've no trouble with at all. I thought I would considering I'm only 22. I've found it challenging getting the groups to respect me as someone in charge as some of them are 3 years younger than me or the same age.

With your new class Andrea is right, just do the best you can because at that age and stage they are at there is only so much you can with them, as they are adults. Hopefully this group will be fine but If they choose to be rude it's themselves they are letting down. Of course try with them but if they continue to be dismissive and blunt I'd only give them so many chances. If rudeness persists I'd have a word with the course leader.

My group were so diverse, with ages ranging from 21 to 60 and all kinds of life experiences, abilities, learning difficulties and mental health issues. As a group they gelled, and worked really well together. I found the younger students responded really well to me very quickly, actually on the first day. This may have been because they are closer to my age group than the session tutor. At first there was quite a difference within the room as I am going to each student to check on their progress etc, the younger ones wanted to chat and discuss their ideas with enthusiasm whilst the mature students were dismissive and almost secretive about their work, saying "it's ok, I don't need your help, I know what I'm doing! As I say, it only lasted a couple of weeks thank goodness.

I think that each age group has particular challenges---that could be the difference you noticed.  Sometimes particular classes have a personality of their own that clashes with yours.  In my experience there are huge differences in grade levels.  I have taught the same group of students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades.  The same group of students are dramatically different as they go through the grades.  Some examples...Sixth grade boys cry a lot and they are very playful and like to tap and touch each other, but they are still teacher pleasers and like to do fun stuff and they all raise their hand to participate.  Seventh graders are the most chatty and can be argumentative, but are pretty easy-going. Eighth graders are much more calm, but think that everything is boring and that they know everything already and girls are extremely snotty, but they are capable of abstract thinking and are more serious about passing on to high school.

Its really interesting how you describe your students changing and almost unconsciously adapting their personality to their grade as they get older. I'm training to be a teacher and the level four learners were my first group on my placement at the university. I think, like your students my learners changed throughout their first semester, being quiet, unsure and dismissive at first, probably trying to take in all of the information and new surroundings. I could tell they thought I would have little to offer them, however after the first couple of weeks they were coming to me for support instead of the session tutor. I have also had students inform me of issues at home and learning difficulties they had not included on their application forms. I was happy that I did build that rapport fairly quickly.

It's rather unfortunate that the real breakthrough came when I had to deal with disruptive behaviour within the classroom. I did it by the book and was quite firm, and from that point onwards they treated me less as a friend and more as a teacher.

When a student at school I found it was either the young newly qualified teachers or the 'ancient' teachers that got stick from the students and I believe this was because there was a massive difference in age or not very much at all. Students would think that they were either as good as the teacher, therefore thinking they could do a better job so not do the work set by the teacher, or be incredibly rude to the teacher, trying to belittle them with stupid comments and causing havoc in their classroom.

I think this is always a daunting area for a teacher and being a trainee teacher myself it definitely scares me. With thought to the class you are with after christmas, I think the best thing to do would be to explain to them why you are there and what you are hoping to do with them. Tell them you are there to help and suggestions from them are more than welcome. Carry out some form of initial assessment and that will hopefully give you some idea as to how they are going to react to you. I would try and set some ground rules to. Not any rules that are going to make them feel stupid but just rules like no phones out unless they are being used as an aid to help learning. Good luck!

Thank you Aimee, I will make a note of your suggestions, I think you are on to something there. It should be different this time anyway I hope, as the level four group were new to their course as was I. But yes, I need to be clear and define why I am there and how I can help them. Ground rules are a good idea too, I'll try to think of a way to apply them without sounding like a battleaxe. Maybe that will be my next thread.....

Haha no problem Hannah, I'm sure you will do just fine :-)

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