Today I ran into a few of my colleagues having a “kids these days” conversation in the copy room. I am really lucky not to encounter too many of these at work. Complaining about students is like tequila shots or Girl Scout cookies–appealing in the moment, but afterwards you feel sick. Lots of teacher-training activities actually have a “no complaining” rule built in, because, like tequila and Girl Scout cookies, once you start it’s hard to stop.
These particular complaining teachers are all nice people and good teachers and love their students, and they probably just have stronger stomachs than I do. And some of what they said was right. According to them, kids these days:
- Can’t stop staring at their phones
- Use text-message shorthands in their formal writing
- Have illegible handwriting
- Write in pencil when they should use ink
- Can’t write a complete, grammatical sentence.
I have to admit, it’s all true. In the fifteen years or so I’ve been teaching English, students have gotten worse in all these areas. (Except they always had bad grammar and I don’t care if they write in pencil). But I don’t believe things just decline, especially not massive, undefined, complex things like “kids these days.” I was pretty sure the kids must be spending all that time when they’re not practicing their handwriting and spelling out the word “Y-O-U” doing something productive. And yeah, I can think of a bunch of things kids these days (“kids” being my students) are doing better than they did when I started teaching:
- Using the internet to create and promote their own art, music, films and writing
- Judging a credible website from a sketchy one
- Teaching me how to use updated versions of Word and Powerpoint
- Treating students who are different with compassion and respect
- Caring about racism and wanting to discuss news stories about racism
- Not saying “ew” when the word “gay” is mentioned
- Feeling safe enough to come out, and supporting their friends who have come out
- Reading for fun (thanks to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.)
- Wearing clothing that covers their butt-cracks.
There! Ten things! My students are way better at all these things than they were a decade ago. And in my opinion, if I have to trade these things for never capitalizing the word “I” or not being able to put down their (fucking) phones, I’ll take it.