Growing up it’s not for the faint of heart. Your body goes through awkward changes, no one seems to understand you, and you just can’t find the words to communicate what you’re really feeling. As teachers, we spend most of our waking hours with young people in this very state. So, let me share five things your students want you to know but will never be able to tell you.

They want to be an active partner in learning

All students – even the shy ones, even the loners – want to be involved. They don’t want to passively acquire knowledge. They want to experience true learning. Even auditory learners yearn to be a partner and have an equal role in the educational process. To be clear, not every student wants to act out a historic scene or create a diorama. What they want is to truly enjoy learning, and in order to be vested in the outcome, you need to have some skin in the game.

Find an authentic way to engage them actively and equally as a learning partner. Introduce content through active discovery, customize content to activities they already interested in, or offer alternative assessment options that require active participation from your students. Be the teacher that gets them into the driver’s seat of their life. They’ll thank you later.

They want you to be honest

It’s unfortunate, but adults lie to children all the time. We desperately want to show them a world in which everything is fair and good. We want them to see their parent, teacher, or mentor as someone who knows all the right answers and can protect them from harm. While it’s important for children to feel safe and respect adults, they’re better at spotting lies than we give them credit for. If you’re not honest with them, they’ll know it.

So, when you don’t know the right answer, admit that you don’t know. Then, work together to find it. Share your own interests and passions as well as the subjects you find challenging. You may not be able to share everything about your life (your personal details are yours alone), but you can always be truthful about how you feel.

They want you to challenge them

Ask a student if they’d rather have an easy “A” or a hard-earned “B”, and they’ll almost certainly choose the “A”. People rarely ask for challenging work, but deep down, we all need it. Take sports or gaming for example. Everyone starts out as a beginner, intimidated by all the rules and options laid out before them. Yet, once you master these features, the thrill is great enough to keep you pressing onward towards more challenging obstacles. The harder the challenge, the more rewarding the victory!

Never back away from challenging your students. Yes, it will take effort on your part and there will be moments when your students get frustrated, but the prize will be worth it in the end.

They want to do good in the world

The younger generation has a bad reputation for being entitled and disrespectful. In truth, there is a selflessness and commitment to the greater good that shines within them. Think of all the new companies who donate a large part of their profits toward philanthropic purposes. Somewhere along the way we must have done something right. Who doesn’t want their kids to care about the environment and commit to philanthropy?

Use this charitable charm to your own (and the world’s) advantage! Connect what you’re teaching to a cause that students care about. Teach financial responsibility and have your students share their knowledge with their peers. Instruct your class on sustainable living and find ways to protect the natural resources of your community. There are endless ways your students could be a powerful force for good.

They want to know they matter

More than anything, students want to know that they matter. It takes a strength beyond their years to come right out and ask if they matter to you, so they are unlikely to voice this out loud, but know that they are always – ALWAYS – wondering it.

So answer this unspoken question with affirmation every day. Tell them as a class. Tell them as individuals. Really, tell them any way you like! At the end of the day, you’re not teaching math or reading, you are teaching students. If they learn this one thing – that they matter – you’ll have done them an invaluable service.

What about you? What do you want your students to know before they leave?