As an educator I often get asked whether the students of today are different from students of the past. Are students getting worse from year to year? Is this incoming generation a mess? My non-educator friends, people I encounter in the community, and even my students’ parents look at me like I know the real dirt. They look to me as the teacher on the front lines of what they consider a battlefield. All of the wrongs of society are traced back to the classroom, the student, and the educational system. I understand. Social media paints a very gruesome picture. The horror stories of cyber bullies, violent video games, and low test scores would have anyone pointing fingers at what’s wrong with children today. We feel safer when we have an explanation right? When we can point the blame on someone or something. Our society is addicted to complaining about what is going wrong. In actuality children have been blamed for years. In the 1960 musical Bye Bye Birdie a popular song ‘Kids’ had lyrics that resonated with frustrated parents, “Kids! I don’t know what is wrong with these kids today.” I guess kids back then were doing it wrong and nothing has changed much today. The props have changed. Cue the Miley Cyrus song, put a cell phone in a students hand and MindCraft on their computer screen. I assure you that if given a chance this generation may just restore your faith in humanity. Below I will list my observations in the classroom. I will also sprinkle teaching magic tips. How can we as a society empower this generation to embrace their unique talents?
Have a strong emotional IQ. They have compassion and empathy for the world. They understand the need to protect animals on the extinct list. They want to be part of the answer to global warming. Their perspective of the world is much broader than any other generation of students.
The teaching magic: Students are passionate about reading, debating and writing about ‘save the world’ topics.
Have a strong competitive spirit. Students know that getting attention and recognition is a strong incentive to be the best and to ensure happiness. They see how their parents have had to work harder in the last several years during the weak economy, so they follow their parents lead to be ambitious, hard workers.
The teaching magic: Students embrace the rigor of the Common Core standards. To be challenged to think critically, engages them.
Have the ability to multi-task. Technology has increased a student’s ability to multi-task. They approach technology with confidence, patience, and enthusiasm.
The teaching magic: Use technology to engage students to learn deeper and connect globally.
Crave boundaries. Today’s parents are often over whelmed and over wrought because of the high stress, high paced life. Parenting may not provide the conversations, example, and inspiration to develop the values and resiliency that a student needs.
The teaching magic: Students look to the teacher to provide a safe environment, consistent routines, open communication, understanding, trust. They honor and respect this adult educator in their life. They want to please.
Are hyper-vigilant about food and health. Why this obsession? Students experience a myriad of TV drug commercials and the ever present trend to eat healthy adds to the health food priority. Where is the anti-bacterial soap? a mantra of this generation.
The teaching magic: Students are highly motivated to learn science especially GROSS science.
Have lackluster confidence. Students struggle with even the smallest failure . Because they lack the confidence, the ugly bully character trait may surface.
The teaching magic: We must reverse the stigma associated with mental health. We must divert funds and provide schools with counselors. Mental Health needs to be a priority. Students feel confident when they are given boundaries, rules, encouragement and a forum to share their journey.
Have busy schedules. They are on a treadmill of events and checking off the many programed activities, soccer, dance, piano, etc.
The teaching magic: The teacher includes an element of choice in assignments. The student who is overly programmed is now feeling some power over their life and has buy in.
Students today have amazing potential. The points hi-lighted above merely skim the surface. Instead of comparing this generation to the past and questioning if each year students are getting worse, let’s pause. Students will always be influenced by music, technology, “bad” parenting, the economy, and media. Students will also be influenced by good. The time we waste questioning and complaining about the system could be time spent taking action. Pay attention. The interests students have, that we so question, actually serve as the biggest window into their worlds. I look at it as the more I understand how they tick and the obstacles they face, then the more I can empower them and give them positions of leadership and responsibility. A shout-out to all the hard working teachers! Every day teachers meet the changing needs of students. Students are not getting worse and the battlefields are not in classrooms. The battlefields are found on TV, in movies, on computers and phones, and SnapChat. Let me ask you a question. Are you willing to throw your support behind this generation? They’re right on our heels. If we remain open and unwavering in our support for these students, they just may hold the answers we seek.
Are your ready for the future?