“You teach high school? I would never…”
This is usually the reaction I get when someone asks me what I do for a living.
The words are typically accompanied by complaints about the new generation, work ethics, and how terrible kids are these days.
“I would never do that job,” people say, and I usually just smile because they have no idea what they are talking about.
Teenagers have always gotten a bad rap; it’s nothing new.The noun has become associated with words like “reckless,” “wild,” or “immature.” Adults have always looked at the age group with disdain and perhaps even fear.
We always think the “new” generation of teenagers is worse than the last. We always seem to talk about how society is collectively getting worse.
I’ve heard so many criticize the new generation. People talk about how scary it is that we’ll be leaving our world in the hands of this new generation, the generation who can’t talk to each other in a restaurant because they’re buried in their phones. It’s a generation of Sparknotes and Google, a generation who takes the easy way out. People think the new generation lacks a sense of remorse, a sense of purpose, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of everything in between.
I, too, have fallen prey to this negative line of thinking from time to time. There are days when it seems like the bad outweighs the good, when I feel like losing faith in humanity. I’ll hear a mean comment or deal with a negative situation and, like many, am tempted to generalize. I worry about the impact of technology on society. I wonder if there really is a downward spiral happening.
We all fall prey to the temptation to generalize a group based on a few and to let the bad become the central focus of our attention.
The thing is, though, the good always outweighs the bad as long as you keep your eyes open long enough.
Positive Thinking: The Key to Successful Teaching
I was at a tech conference this week, and the speaker, George Couros told a story about work in a high school. During a workshop, he had students live tweet about his speech on a board behind him.
The first tweet was a vulgar one from a student.The crowd laughed.
Then a second vulgar tweet came in, and he thought about shutting it down. He thought they couldn’t handle it. He realized, though, he would be shutting down an opportunity because two kids out of two thousand were making rude comments.
He decided not to focus on the negative.
Instead, he reminded the students that they could make an impact. What impact would they choose?
Dozens of positive tweets started rolling in. So many positive tweets came in that the bad ones were overshadowed.
George said that is the secret: you have to have so much good that it drowns out the bad.
I think this is true in so many areas of life. We, as humans, are tempted by the bad. We want to only see the darkness in a situation because it intrigues us. It’s easier to complain about bad than to see the good sometimes.
In teaching, there have certainly been hard days. There have been negative issues and moments when I ask myself if the next generation is, in fact, capable.
But the goodness in students always shines through…even if it takes a while.
Finding the Good in Teaching
There are so many moments when I stand in front of the classroom and I am just in awe of the students in front of me. From beautiful acts of compassion to dedication that inspires, the students have so much to share with the world and will if you let them.
A few weeks ago, we had a discussion about Emerson’s“Self Reliance.” To see tenth graders dissecting this difficult work and understanding concepts in it was beautiful to watch.
What was more beautiful, though?
Watching them have a collaborative discussion in which they applied Emerson’s ideals to the world around them.
I just stood back, listened, and smiled.
If our future is in the hands of these capable, analytical minds, we are in great shape. They are problem solvers. They are deep thinkers. They are empathetic and accepting.
Today was only one of the millions of times I’ve said, “Thank goodness I get to teach high school students.” To see brilliance shining through, to see their perspective on the world, and to see them coming into their own is a beautiful thing. I’m so thankful to be a part of their journey and to have had the chance to connect with so many from our collective future.
So yes, I’m a high school teacher.
Yes, I work with teenagers.
And yes, I think the new generation is a capable group of people.