02 February 2008

Relax, It's Normal

An editorial in yesterday's New York Times highlighted the ongoing issue about appropriate school start times for high schools. If you've been a teen, parented a teen, or taught a teen, you may have noticed that early morning is not the best time for them. There are some physiological reasons for this (melatonin production is different, leading to different sleep patterns) and schools which have tried making accommodations for this (i.e. a later start time) are claiming positive results.

I talked about this idea with my students last month. At the time, most of them felt sheepish about admitting to regularly staying up until 12 or 1 a.m. I am sure that they have been scolded by their parents many times---especially when they complained about having to get up and go to school a few hours later. While I doubt that these arguments at home will end anytime in the near future, I did try to make it clear that it's normal for teens to have trouble sleeping during the same hours that would be considered normal for adults. We talked about this period as being one of a lot of final adjustments to their brains. In a few years, activity will settle down.

Kids weren't necessarily sure that the later start time was a good idea---even if it meant sleeping later in the mornings. Many have jobs, activities, or other commitments that would be difficult to adjust. The school could change its times, but that didn't mean the rest of their world would, too. They did agree, however, that it would be nice to have their younger brothers and sisters out of the house at an earlier time of the morning. :)

Teen years can be fraught with enough uncertainties about being "normal" without throwing sleep into the mix. I've worked with 15-year olds for nearly 20 years now---and while each new batch arriving in September is experiencing their first (and only) time being that age, I've seen it a lot. I have developed a pretty good understanding about what falls within the typical range of expression and behavior. I know that I'm not the only one with this knowledge, but the kids tell me that I'm the only teacher who talks to them about it. (I guess my young charges aren't the only ones who lie outside the mean from time to time.) I wonder how many concerns of students might be alleviated if we'd just take more time to chat with them about what to expect when you're expecting to be 16 years old.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

It's a good feeling when kids tell you that you're a good listener and you care about what affects them. When you do positive stuff to support them, they develop tremendous loyalty.

I'm not advocating for manipulation, just highlighting a fact of life. (Example: I advocated for snacking and non-sugar, non-caffeine beverages in the classroom, and succeeded. I had backing from the research on brain function, but it was still an uphill battle. The kids knew I was being scientific about it, but they still appreciated the effort. Of course, the fallout from the "strict" teachers was awful, but like they say in the Russian Marines, "toughsky sh**sky.")

The Science Goddess said...

Teachers at this school pride themselves on their "academic" focus. I'm not saying that schools shouldn't make classroom learning a priority, but I truly believe that we need to remember that there are real people sitting in those desks. We need to have a more holistic approach to the classroom.