Most of us (if you are over 40) are inundated with emails, messages, posts and more related to maintaining what is left of our youth. Almost all of these focus on diet, exercise, supplements or other physiological manipulation.
However, if you are in education, you may be missing the most powerful method of staying young overall - staying connected to young people. Regardless of your job as an educator, of even if you are not an educator at all, here are some easy tips that could make a big difference.
- Ask Students What They Think. Seems simple right? But do we realize how little we do this? Students have great ideas about everything, but we rarely consult them. My dominant complaint ever since I became a teacher was how we don’t ask the students what they think. Students have great ideas about everything, but we rarely consult them. This includes about their own learning and education. But regardless of the subject, ask students for their opinion. If you haven’t done this much, it will take awhile for them to believe you actually care and for you to actually hear/listen.
- Listen To Their Music. Naturally, most educators, or adults (older people), have different musical tastes in general. My best memory of my late grandfather was that he took interest in my music. When I was a fourteen year old aspiring hard rocker, he made an effort to listen and ask questions. I’m sure he didn’t understand, appreciate or grow accustomed to much of it. But he tried very hard and that’s what mattered. Today’s young people, like all young people ever, use music to comprehend and connect with the world. It’s their identity just like it was ours. If we dismiss their music, we are dismissing them. There has been lots of music my students listened to that I didn’t like or connect with very much. But when I tried harder to listen, and even more importantly to talk to them about it, I learned two things. One, there was always something creative, interesting and relevant in the music. Two, it was the beginning of a further connection between myself and my students.
- Spend Time With Them Outside Of Class. I realized early on that it was an honor to just hang out with my students. Yes, we had class time together and even beyond class time (project work, practices, rehearsals, etc.). But what about unstructured time? Good teachers realized long ago that if you open up your room or space at lunch, they will come. I always loved taking students to competitions, conferences or other events because we got to travel and hang together. That’s when you learn a lot about them and who they are. And they are interesting people. There are too many teachers that have never spent a single moment with their students outside of class. There are many ways to do this, but good teachers, especially those that want to be successful (as well as stay young), find ways to not only do this, but maximize this.
- Be A Mentor. This is not an automatic for all educators. Indeed, many educators never even thought about this element when entering the profession. We have lots of teachers, but fewer mentors. To be a mentor, one has to be interested in the relationship you curate and appreciate with one’s students. More than anything, young people are eternally seeking mentors beyond their families and immediate circles. Your mentoring skills and influences will have more long-term impact than any curriculum. Plus, real learning is reciprocal. When you mentor, you will learn as well. Being a mentor is not about telling students what to do, but rather getting to know them and letting them know you are willing to support them with what they want to do. Finally, those we mentor do not need to be in our classrooms. Mentoring opportunities await all of us - inside and outside of education.
So to wrap up, let’s forget about anti-oxidants, vitamin supplements and yoga. Rather, get to know your students and stay connected to them. Yes, youth is often wasted on the young. But it is also squandered by the old.