I will be (one of the) first to admit that today’s kids have a lot going for them—they are remarkably tech-savvy, most of them look at going to college (or pursuing some other post-high-school degree) as a given, and many of them are pursuing more extracurricular activities and developing more talents than many teens had the chance to develop even fifty years ago.
However (and this is a BIG however), I have found myself increasingly worried that certain verbs seem to be going out of style with the younger generation (and some with the older, as well). Now, I know that not all kids struggle with doing these things, but I will tell you this—more kids struggle doing these than used to.
Five Actions that I Fear are Going Out of Style:
Teachers since the beginning of time have probably been moaning about THAT KID who never listens, never does his work, and seems to have no clue whatsoever what is going on at any given point. It used to be (at least while I was going through school and even last year in my first year of teaching) that you would expect about one (maybe two) of those kinds of students in every class.
(And really, if you think about it—1/32 is not a bad ratio at all.)
BUT, as I’ve talked to my fellow teachers and commiserated with them about how often I hear students ask a question that I literally just answered, we are ALL coming to the same conclusion:
Listening, it seems, is going out of style.
For every writing assignment I give my students, I give them a written outline of my expectations. I also verbally give them reminders every single day in the computer lab of the things I expect in their papers.
Less than half get full marks for following directions.
(Also, Matt and I have made a little “people-watching” game out of counting how many people bring phones (and check them!) while they’re out on dates or out in a social group at restaurants. It’s gotten so bad that there was this one time that Matt and I were the ONLY ONES in the entire section of a particular restaurant who weren’t on our phones. I honestly wonder—don’t people realize that when you pull out your phone when you’re with other people, the message you’re sending is, “You’re not important or interesting enough to me to hold my attention?”)
2. Maintaining Eye Contact
This one might be partly due to the fact that I teach an awkward age group (12- and 13-year-olds), but I have noticed that many people today struggle with maintaining eye contact. Sometimes I think that other people think I’m strange because I have no trouble maintaining eye contact (especially when someone is up in front teaching me something), and I usually don’t pause too often to break it.
But more and more, I’ve found that I can be talking one-on-one with someone (student OR adult), and it seems like less and less, the person is looking me in the eyes.
In a world filled with numerous bits of data and information available to us by the touch of a button, I’ve found that more and more, people are more concerned with relying on facts and trying to be right than they are about wondering, creating, or imagining.
Last year, I taught a unit all about creating a story after the pattern of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” The assignment required the students to dream big, to use their imaginations, and to create basically an entire new world for themselves.
When I explained what they needed to do, I got a lot of blank looks and a lot of questions like the following:
“Well, what am I supposed to write about?”
“Anything you want to. You’re the creator of your story.”
“But what do you want me to write about?”
“Anything you want to. You’re the creator of your story.”
“But what’s the “right” thing to write about?”
“There is no “right” thing. Write about anything you want. YOU ARE THE CREATOR OF YOUR STORY.”
“Is it okay if I include a dragon in my story?”
“Write about anything you want. You are the creator of your story.”
Most of my students still looked at me suspiciously, like I was trying to trick them into failing or something.
It’s sad really how much we seem to condition kids to not imagine things for themselves—from the time they’re young nowadays, kids constantly expect to be entertained by devices/means other than their own minds. When school hits, they are rarely encouraged past the early grades to create, imagine, and think outside the box.
It’s sad to think that imagining is a verb that is going more and more out of style.
I originally thought of putting “work” as a verb that’s going out of style, but I don’t think that’s true—I think rather that many people (especially kids) nowadays are forgetting how to “pursue” something—how to keep on chasing a dream even when the path gets rough, or how to push through a task when it gets difficult.
I can be as guilty of this one as any—in a world so full of instant gratification, it starts to become second nature to think, “Eh, this isn’t pleasing me. I’m just going to quit.”
Running is one of the main ways I’m counteracting the lazy woman in me who just wants to quit trying things that are worthwhile just because they’re difficult. It’s a constant battle, but I’m finding that when I slack on my diligence, I’m often only too content to become lazy, unmotivated, and leisure-seeking.
Many of my students REALLY struggle with perseverance–if something isn’t “easy,” “fun,” or in a passive medium (like a film clip or a slide show), they think it isn’t worth putting in much effort.
Hand-in-hand with pursuing, more and more I’m seeing that many struggle with denying themselves activities, objects, or habits that are harmful, addictive, or unedifying. It is part of the human experience to learn discipline, but once again, I think the “instant gratification” message permeating much of our society makes it all too easy to rationalize that “I deserve this” or “There will be time to deal with this later.”
I know that as I get older, I seem to struggle MORE with denying myself some things rather than less, partly because I seem to have unconsciously bought into the idea that I somehow “deserve” that fifth chocolate chip cookie because I worked hard today, dang it! (And I ran 5 miles!)
And my students look at me aghast sometimes when I take something away from them that they know they shouldn’t have with them (phones, iPods, candy…). I once had to change two students’ seats when I was student teaching because they had just started a new relationship and were getting far too distracted in class. When I moved them apart, one of the other students piped up (after a big long gasp):
“You are a relationship wrecker!”
Why yes, yes I guess I am.
All in all, there are some days that I feel overwhelmed as a teacher because I feel it’s somehow my responsibility to instill these “verbs” into my students before they are lost forever. I somehow feel that I am all that stands between some of these students and a life filled with video games, junk food, and mindless entertainment.
I know it’s kind of a ridiculous idea when I come out and say it like that.
But I feel responsible for them—I DO.
Now the next question is—
WHAT CAN BE DONE?