students

Almost Everything I Know, I’ve learned in a Classroom – My Own.

Almost everything I know, I learned in a classroom – My Own

It was 16 years ago that I first stepped foot in that classroom. It was the result of an impulsive decision. I wanted to change the world, make it better. On a whim, I applied for teaching credentials from the state then faxed my resume to three schools. Two weeks later, I was sitting with a thousand other people in a hotel conference space for New Teacher Orientation. A week after that, I was setting up my classroom, studying textbooks, writing lesson plans, designing a curriculum. 

Ten years ago, I became the Region I Teacher of the Year. A lot has changed since then, even the school region’s name and boundaries — it’s now the North Region.

It was all a whirlwind of activity. Every year is. And a classroom is a home away from home.

Teaching changes how one views the world. Our very perception of time is altered; it’s faster, determined by the school calendar: quarters and semesters, progress reports, standardized tests. A teacher’s year isn’t twelve months long, it’s nine. 

There is always a clear beginning and a definitive end. At the end of each year — even a really bad year — there is always a sense of hope, joy, nostalgia. After all, each school year always ends in graduation, a commencement, a celebration of what was and of the possibilities that lie ahead.

Always, I felt ready to do it all again: to teach literature and writing, yes, but also to push students to think critically, to look closer, to push them to achieve more than they thought they could, to dream and, more importantly, to believe in their ability to achieve those dreams – and then to dream bigger.

Over the years, I’ve watched these kids grow up and thrive academically, personally, professionally. I’ve cheered them on as they achieve greater milestones. I’ve attended college graduations and weddings, proofread graduate school applications and resumes. We’ve built a team, an extended family.

They have inspired me.

That is, of course, the great irony. I wanted to change the world. I never anticipated how much my students would change me. (Related: What have I learned this year? Teaching is Hard)

I learned about perseverance and tenacity, about team-building, about the impact of socio-economic disparities. I learned, and continue to learn, about pop culture and evolving language (slang and colloquialism are – after all – the evolution of our language). I’ve learned that we often underestimate young people, that we don’t spend enough time listening to them or acknowledging their viewpoints, but we do spend a lot of time projecting our own apprehensions and expectations on them. I’ve learned just how meaningful and impacting it can be to have someone in your corner, someone that believes in you. I’ve learned just how few kids have that.

In short, I have learned every day.

Their energy is electrifying, even the cynicism that Gen Zers are so known for is not totally devoid of hope. On the contrary, they possess an astounding amount of optimism, a sincere belief that they can be agents of change, that we have the ability to fix our problems, that even in the absurdity of the present moment, there is joy.

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Another version of this essay was published on the PBS NewsHour Extra, Educator’s Voice. Read it here: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/2021/09/educator-voice-almost-everything-i-know-i-learned-in-a-classroom-my-own/

Millennials: Super Students, Super Humans

Gabriella Nuňez graduated near the top of her high school class.  Her resume rivals that of many college graduates.  She juggled rigorous courses with part-time work, myriad extracurricular activities and a thousand hours of community service.  She held various leadership positions ranging from class president to design editor of her newspaper and she began her college career this summer with over 24 college credits under her belt.

And, she is not alone.  The 21st century teenager is increasingly dynamic, and they have to be.  Although the Millennial Generation, usually defined as people born between 1981 and 2000, is often criticized for their narcissism and sense of entitlement, new research shows that this generation is actually much more complex than what they’re given credit for.

class of 2013

Millennial face an insecure and increasingly competitive job market; but, they are amazingly optimistic

Yes, today’s young people do seem to “grow up” later, as they put off traditional rites of passage such as marriage, family and home-ownership.  And they also have shorter attention spans.  Both are, at least partially, due to technology and the Great Recession.

Today’s teens and young adults are more confident and connected than ever before.  And they have reason to be.  Whereas teens growing up in the late 60s believed that anything was possible after witnessing Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, this generation very much believes that they can know all there is to know.  This is a generation that does not know a world without computers.  Moreover, they don’t remember a time before Google and graphing calculators.  So, are they spoiled?  Perhaps.  Are they a little self-centered?  Probably.  But, in their world, the President of the United States is only a Tweet away.

And the Great Recession taught them to have less faith in the “grown-ups” and traditional measures of adulthood. They watched their parents endure the real estate melt-down and double-digit unemployment. The Federal Reserve reports that between 2007 and 2010, the median net worth of American families plunged 39 percent.

And the news gets worse.  Although this generation is generally more educated than ever before, with more Americans holding college degrees than ever, Millennials are disproportionately unemployed or underemployed.  At the height of Great Recession, the unemployment rate among 15 to 24 year-olds was over 20 percent.

And although those numbers have improved, a 2009 Yale University study indicates that students who graduate during a recession earn 10 percent less, even after a decade of work.

According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, inflation-adjusted wages for young high school graduates declined by 11.1 percent between 2000 and 2011, and the real wages of young college graduates declined by 5.4 percent.

But the news does not seem to discourage them.  In fact, it seems to motivate some students to work even harder.

“When I got to high school, taking rigorous classes meant sacrificing a social life and sleep for study time to fulfill my various duties and responsibilities,” said Lisabet Esperon, who graduated this June and will begin school at the University of Florida as a sophomore, pursuing a degree in accounting.

Sacrifice is not usually the first word that people associate with the Millennial Generation; however, they are saving more and spending less.  Millenials are driving less and, increasingly, living within their means, carrying less credit card debt than their parents did.

Despite facing grim employment prospects, mounting tuition costs and rising student loan interest rates, today’s young people remain optimistic.  According to a Pew Research Study, 41 percent of them are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, compared to only 26 percent of those 30 and older who feel the same.

And they’d have to be optimistic as they graduate high school to find that being top of your class does not guarantee admission to their school of choice at a time when college applications are at an all-time high.  Then they graduate from college to enter an incredibly competitive work force.

So, it’s not that Millennial are lazy.  They are used to the competition, the stress and the hard work.  They just expect to see results for it.  And they don’t necessarily measure success in dollars.

Nuňez was often incredibly stressed in high school.  “There were tears and hair pulling and late nights with piles of homework” she said.  But she doesn’t expect a huge paycheck at the end.  “I want a meaningful career.  I want to give back.  I want to feel fulfilled.  Really, I just want to be happy.”

Millenials then, are a paradox.  They want more: more free time, more travel, more experiences; they want more out of life than a house with white picket fence and a two-car garage.  And, at least for now, they are willing to trade immediate financial success, getting by with less money, to achieve more happiness. How idealistic.

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Originally published on WLRN in July 2013