As we just mentioned, teachers, as the professional in daily contact with the immigrant student, have a tremendous influence at many levels beyond academic, in helping the youngster succeed in adapting, not just to the new culture and language, but also to their new family. They do that by providing positive corrective emotional experiences for the youngster to add to their history of interactions with the adult world. They model and teach new and more effective forms of communication and interaction, while at the same time they try to support and encourage these students sometimes gigantic efforts in learning and adapting.They can instill and maintain, when failing, the student’s hope for success in the long term, amid all the huge learning expected of them at this point in their lives However, as mentioned, this is a toll order task and a challenging role for the teachers because, of course, these adolescents being adolescents can make it very difficult for the teacher to reach out to them. Therefore, teachers are in great need of support themselves in learning self care and emotional tools for themselves and the deeper knowledge of the adolescent mind that will save them from great frustration and will make these efforts worthwhile. Nevertheless, the time is always limited and the academic demands high. However, any time invested in these emotional “gold nuggets” will pay off in time saved in disciplinary interventions and for the teachers saving themselves from burn-out. Furthermore not just with teens. but with the younger child as well who can also become a great challenge in the classroom when struggling with the stresses of adapting to the new everything in their lives.
A great new book in the market that comes to the rescue of all professionals working with adolescents and that is written by mental health professionals with a long and successful experience in working with this age population is: What Works with Teens by Britt H. Rathbone, MSSW, LCSW-C and Julie Baron, MSSW, LCSW-C. When starting to read this book I found that I completely shared their fundamental bias stated in the first pages: they believe that others should be treated the way we want and expect to be treated, including kids. They also have the right to be treated in a respectful manner. I also found that premise to be so true in my work with the immigrant adolescent. They would frequently say to me: ” I respect if they respect me, señora Silvia”, when discussing a conflict with a teacher or other adult. So the main ingredient is the quality of the relationship, and to foster that kind of relationship is not easy, as the authors also recognize. It requires the adult to be the one that puts out the effort first and keeps bearing the weight of the responsibility in the exchange. To be that kind of adult you need support stemming from a “framework” of understanding the complexity of the sometimes difficult teen and that is what this book promises to provide to the reader and delivers. It also requires that the adult takes care of his or her own internal well-being to be able to maintain control of their own reactivity without engaging in power struggles. This second form of support is attended to by the authors also, as well as from some wonderful sites created with exactly that goal in mind, such as http://www.mindfulschools.org . This is a place where teachers can learn some useful tools to develop a calmer inner state when stress and difficult interactions rob them of their peace of mind and even keep that state in the face of challenges. Moreover they can become teachers of those skills for both older and younger students.