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“Teaching Teenagers”
Thoughts from Annie Kwok, Composer & Musician

for Music Educators

by Debbie O’Shea

When you meet Annie Kwok, you cannot help but be impressed by her enthusiasm and energy.

Annie Kwok- Composer & Musician

This is how Annie describes her musical background.

“I am a first generation Chinese-Vietnamese Australian, and I have the honour of being the first female in my generation to receive a full education. Pretty amazing, from where I stand! I hold a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance, a Graduate Bachelor of Education in Secondary Arts, and I am presently working on my Master of Education, researching the importance of creativity, imagination, and play in music education. I am a full-time secondary classroom music teacher and have taught at Brighton Secondary School in South Australia, and the Conservatorium High School in Sydney. I am presently teaching Year 6-12 Music at Pulteney Grammar School in Adelaide. I’ve also worked with Young Adelaide Voices, the Sydney Children’s Choir, Gondwana Voices, and the South Australian Public Primary Schools Festival of Music.”  

Annie Kwok

You can find Annie’s compositions here:

The music she writes is beautiful and I would kill to be one of her lucky lucky students. I read the following thoughts on Annie’s Facebook page and asked her permission to reproduce them for a blog post. They bear repeating and further consideration.

Thanks Annie – keep doing what you are doing and making a difference in our world.

“Teaching Teenagers”
If I could share everything I have learned, what would I want people to know?

By: Annie Kwok

  • Know your crew. Everything changes when you know your people.
  • How important it is to connect, and how to connect with teenagers. Ask them about their lives, their interests, their families, their ideas – not just their academics. Ask about them, not just what they can do for you.
  • How important language is – always in terms of “can” rather than “can’t”, what they can do, rather than what they cannot.
  • That you are a role model for your students. They will SEE you more than they will HEAR you.
  • You are clearing a path for them in connecting them with new concepts and ideas. Do not expect feedback – expect to be holding a torch, and they’re lying on the metaphorical couch somewhere, considering the idea.
  • Expect to be schooled by them. Regularly. You will not be bored. Be humble. You have a lot to learn from them.
  • Expect to navigate things out of your comfort zone.
  • Be interested in them, but absolutely rock your own style. Tailoring yourself to suit their needs is the 2.0 of helicopter parenting.
  • Teenagers are wise, courageous, and dumb all at the same time.
  • They are incredibly entertaining and will tug at your heartstrings, and your patience even more.
  • Expect 75% exasperation and 25% cry-your-heart-out exultation.
  • You will worry. A lot.
  • They will not automatically offer themselves up. You need to push for the REAL conversations. Trust takes time. Once you’re there, you’re there.
  • Nice is not enough. You will get superficially Teflon-coated nice back. You’ll be comfortable, they’ll be unaffected, and there’ll be no real connection made.
  • They are some of the most tender-hearted souls you will ever meet; driven, compassionate and endlessly enthusiastic.
  • In a pack, they are dumb. And noisy.
  • Lunchtime is feeding time at the zoo.
  • Prepare to be stretched and surprised.
  • They are more vulnerable that you think. Be a calm island. It’s not that they will come to you – they may NEVER come to you. But KNOWING that you’re an option and a safe port changes everything.
  • They desperately want to be seen, valued + heard. Before you do any disciplining, make sure you have a connection. Otherwise, you are doing nothing, and possibly doing more damage than good.
  • Do not try to be cool. In fact, absolutely embrace the nerdy. They will laugh at you, but your street-cred just went up 1000 points.
  • Excellence matters.
  • They don’t forget shame and they don’t have the tools + maturity to navigate shame. You’re the adult, be careful with them.
  • They generally forget everything else.
  • Teaching teenagers is an Olympic sport. There is no half-arsing it.
  • Do not expect outright enthusiasm to anything you suggest. If they agree, they will look you in the eye.
  • Chocolate is KING.
  • If they cry, yell, share or laugh, in front of or with you, it is a gift. Embrace it.
  • Know that adverse behaviour may hide something else that they don’t know how to express. Learn their language but hold them accountable. Teach them a more effective language. You are training future citizens.
  • They have wild, haphazard ideas. Enjoy them. You will never get this brand of creativity anywhere else. Try not to laugh too much.
  • You don’t have to be loud or overbearing to win the day – all you need to do is know them well and be able to call it. Good, bad or in between, they know truth, especially if it is coupled with respect and love, even if they push up against it.
  • There’s teaching-tired, and then there’s TEENAGER teaching tired.
  • They have 11-year-old hearts walking around in teenager bodies. They need silly, fun + playful in their lives, as well as the hard work of becoming themselves. We all do.
  • Love them. Even when you want to murder them. Love them.
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