YES! Watch out, the kids know more than we think they do. They always have, and it's worth reflecting on the power of their voice as a generation.
In the September 2019 issue of Philadelphia magazine, teachers across the country were asked to compare their students today to students of the past. Here's what they came up with.
What I love about this infographic is that it captures all of the things I've learned about this incredibly aware, strong, and struggling Gen Z that I spend 40 hours a week with. Gen Z faces a world created by boomers and led by boomers. The amazing thing is, Gen Z as a generation knows what they're up against, and this awareness makes their voices stronger.
Here are the top ten descriptors that stand out to me.
My students are....
1. More stressed, more aware, less trusted
We make kids walk through metal detectors . It's traumatic . It's not OK, and they know it.
2. Dealing with the same issues but on a much bigger stage
25% of active shootings from 2000-2013 took place in schools. Today's students are not only the victims of gun violence, but they're also leading nation wide movements for the safety that they deserve. Talk about real bravery
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers according to the CDC . Too many kids are struggling in school with almost no support. When are we going to acknowledge suicide as the epidemic that it really is?
4. More empathetic
My students go out of their way to include each other. They approach adults with maturity and respect. Gone are the days of disrespectful jokes about women, gender identity, or sexuality.
5. Woke. They're much more socially conscious
They don't just know about global warming. They're marching for it. They don't just know about racism. They're critically aware of racism. They stick up for each other. They're embracing what's right over what's comfortable.
6. Just as crazy and weird.
They're still throwing pencils at the ceiling to make them stick. It's still annoying. It's still fun. And as an adult working in a high school, I also get to do weird shit like that with them.
Yes, this generation of students struggle, but they're choosing not to be the victims. Yes, my students have bad days, but I do too. Yes, the public school system has inequalities that run far and deep, but the incredible awareness that my students demonstrate on a daily basis is beyond anything you remember from your own high school experience.
When I tell people I'm a teacher, people usually make the following assumptions about me
1. I'm broke and stressed (which is not always true)
2. I have an unbelievable and infinite capacity for patience and altruism (definitely not true!)
Strangers will say something along the lines of ......"Oh wow you're a teacher? Good for you. I could never do what you guys do all day. How do you even do it? Those kids must be tough! "
While I know assumptions like that come from a good place, I wish more people knew what the act of teaching really is.
What I'm learning is...teaching doesn't require infinite patience. Teaching doesn't require an amazing ability to self-sacrifice for the good of society and our children. Teachers aren't saints. In fact, nothing about a person's innate personality automatically makes them a good teacher. Teaching is the act of practicing compassion. I'm learning now how to engage in that practice.
In reading about compassion, I found the following definition especially helpful and relevant.
"When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience our fear of pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently towards what scares us...In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience- our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity"
What does this random quote from an American buddhist monk tell me? A lot of things
1. Generating compassion requires practice
2. Generating compassion is scary
3. Compassion involves a relationship between equals
4. Generating compassion for others requires that you know your own darkness well
Of course, I'm not any self-proclaimed expert in any of this. But...I do think that the more we practice writing about, talking about, and sharing compassion, the closer we get to ensuring that school feels safe for all students.
I knew teaching was for me when I realized I loved being surrounded by dozens of bouncing first graders. Hair pulling? Jump roping? Screaming, singing, running, dancing? Multiplied by twenty kids? Bring it on
The more energy, the better. I thought I would be missing out on that energy by switching to teaching high school. Boy was I wrong about that. Turns out, my high school students are the most energetic people to be around.
"Ms. Tsai can I put the answer on the board?? Ms. Tsai DID YOU HEAR ME???" - An enthusiastic senior
"MS. TSAI!!!!" runs up to the smart board "Can I write the answer on the board??" another kid runs up too "NO I want to do it! You already had a turn!" - A competitive student and his friend
"Ms. Tsai. MS. TSAI!!! MS. TSAI!!!" I turn around and acknowledge the student "Guess what, I FINALLY get it" Ok great, thanks for interrupting me to tell me that - That kid who was throwing pencils at the ceiling a week ago
Yep, my teenagers are enthusiastic to say the least. It's a myth that high school students are too cool for school or too old to play in class. Although I'm motivated by my students' enthusiasm, their excitement can also be exhausting when thirty teenagers are all radiating their energy at the same time. After being around their energy all day, I feel totally wiped by the time 3 pm rolls around. Sometimes I'll come home at 4:00, fall asleep at 4:30, and wake up again at 6:30 just to recharge. The fact that I love teaching speaks to my extroverted side. I feel energized and motivated when I'm around my students. The energy is contagious and lifting. At the same time, I feel energetically drained by the end of the day. People who know me assume I'm 100% extroverted. Teaching has taught me that I'm actually 1/2 extroverted and 1/2 introverted.
Extroversion is the ability to absorb energy from outside sources (i.e. other people, energetic environments, concerts, parties...)
Introversion is the ability to draw energy from internal sources (i.e. alone time, yoga, meditation...)
The reality is.....school is exhausting for both teachers and students. Introverted students struggle even more to stay focused and energized throughout a typical chaotic school day. It's no wonder why so many students complain of being exhausted. In order to reach and support as many students as possible, teachers should find ways to energize their students' extroverted AND introverted energies.
Here's what's worked well for me so far.
Strategies for nurturing extroverted energy in students
Strategies for nurturing introverted energy in students