There is a subtle and sinister reality facing parents, coaches and educators today. Its source is invisible, but tangible. It can be spotted when we get caught up in the past, and begin to resent our present. Let me explain what I mean.
I recently spoke to a group of university faculty who, during a Q and A session, groaned about the students they were teaching today. They expressed some of the sentiments you might have felt yourself:
- Kids today will not get off their phones!
- They don’t know how to look you in the eye when you talk to them.
- Kids have no grit or resourcefulness today.
- Students get stressed out over the smallest of things in their daily life.
- Their work ethic is not what mine was at their age!
- Today’s kids seem like they can’t delay gratification.
While all of these statements may be warranted, I began to notice what our attitudes were doing to students. I’ve seen a shift in their attitudes recently. As I meet with college and high school students, I’ve begun to recognize how aware they are of our negativity. It is as if they feel our disposition and receive this message:
“I wish I was teaching different students, like the ones I had in the past—not you.”
They actually walk away from our time with them feeling like we really don’t want to be with them—we want to be with students from former times. We wish we could teach our own generation, not theirs. They feel they’re not as good as we were.
This Is a Problem for All of Us
Believe it or not, I also see this with parents and their teenage kids. I had some high school students tell me they “think they got the wrong parent.” When I poke around to find out what they mean, they say they can tell their parents don’t really like them. They feel like their mom or their dad wishes they had a different son.
This is a tragic message to relay.
The only way we can begin to address this issue is to fall in love with the students we actually teach and parent, not the ones we wish we had. Yes, they are anxious and have short attention spans. But our culture has done this to them. They are products of our making. Today’s average college student is burdened by debt (the largest college debt in American history), and they actually have less support. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, “more than one in four students have a child, almost three in four are employed; and more than half receive Pell Grants but are left far short of the funds required to pay for college. Rather than receiving help from their parents to pay for college, even the youngest college students often have to use their loans to pay their parent’s bills.”
The fact is, we all feel like the victim here. Parents are afraid they’re not measuring up to the “perfect parent” ideal they’re being measured against. Teachers feel they are underpaid and unappreciated. Youth coaches feel they get yelled at when they’re actually volunteering their time. Employers feel they’re getting young professionals who are unready for the workplace. Sadly, the moment we see ourselves as victims, everyone else feels like perpetrators. Others become the enemy. And, why not blame the kids today for all of this?
My Challenge to You
Our work must always begin with deep respect for those we teach and lead. We must listen and appreciate their realities before we assume we have an answer for them. In fact, let me suggest some simple reminders for you this week:
1. We must be responsive.
This means students feel we listen well and empathize with their situation.
2. We must be inclusive.
This means we work to identify with those who are unlike us, even our own kids.
3. We must be adaptive.
This means we’re willing to adjust our methods and style to reach them.
4. We must be supportive.
This means we see them as humans, not customers, and reach out to meet their need.
5. We must be provocative.
This means we challenge them to stretch because we believe in their potential.
I recently spoke at an event, where I had to work harder than usual to identify with my audience. They were young, minority students, in a lower income part of the city. I did my best to meet members of my audience beforehand, to listen to them and laugh with them (sometimes laughing at me) and later, communicate with them from the stage. It was as if I was a missionary attempting to reach a cross-cultural audience. And in many ways, that was natural.
After my session was over, an African-American female approached me sheepishly and said thank you. When I smiled, and replied that it was my pleasure, she looked at me and said, “I feel like you get me.” That was the best affirmation a student could’ve offered me that day. May that be our story every day of this year.
Back to School Special:
All Habitudes Books are $10 Each
It is officially 2019! As you start a new semester, we wanted to help you out by discounting all of the Habitudes books to be $10 each. That means now is the perfect time for you to give Habitudes a try for the first time or to restock on books for the semester.
If you’re not familiar with Habitudes, they utilize the power of image-based learning to help instill leadership and life skills in today’s students. Habitudes help educators:
- Easily have real-life conversations with their students.
- Make a last impact on the lives of the next generation.
- Inspire students to take ownership of their own work.
- Get more time back to focus on what they love and enjoy about their job.
Don’t miss out though, this special ends Sunday, January 27th at Midnight!