Kids These Days

By Emma Whalen – June 1, 2017

Times are changing, but are kids changing with them? It’s as easy to make sweeping generalizations about Generation Z or, “post-millennials,” as it is to make them about any generation. As the years pass, children are always faced with new opportunities and challenges that shape their development. So, how have kids changed in the last decade and how might they shape our future differently than previous generations? For answers to these complicated questions, we turned to some people who understand kids the most—teachers. These experienced elementary through high school level educators provided us with a unique perspective on how their classroom environments have (and have not) changed in the last decade. 

Elementary School

Kelly Boerckel
Counselor at Naomi Pasemann Elementary School
Taylor, Texas 
9 years working in education

How has the classroom environment changed?

We do a lot of movement breaks like yoga, ‘go noodle,’ and meditation; their brains are always needing to move to the next best thing because they're used to just slam-bam 'give me the iPad, let me play all day long.' They're constantly working in their minds so we have to keep them excited and moving around a lot.

How can parents help with early childhood development?

It’s our duty as educators not just to educate them academically, but also to educate them socially. I also think, as parents with young/toddler-aged kids, it's our duty to educate them socially, too. So instead of sticking an iPad on a kid while we have a conversation or go grocery shopping, we should let them sit in the cart and read people's facial cues as we're going through the store. We can interact with people and have our three-year-old watch and see how we wait patiently for somebody to get their order while we wait our turn. They're missing those everyday, key moments of watching social interaction. Instead we're giving them the iPhone to play in the supermarket so we can go to HEB and get it done in 30 minutes.

Middle School

Becky Berdoll 
6th and 7th grade science at Hill Country Middle School
Austin, Texas
16 years working in education

Steve Wickwar
Audio/Visual Teacher, Yearbook, and Online Newspaper Sponsor at Barbara Bush Middle School
San Antonio, Texas
23 years working in education

Samantha Hopkins 
8th Grade History at Barbara Bush Middle School
San Antonio, Texas
20 years working in education

What is something that has not changed in middle school students in your time teaching?

Wickwar: The one thing that has remained consistent from when I attended middle school over 30 years ago until toda is that popularity reigns supreme. Each middle school has a small nucleus of students (usually the affluent students) that are deemed popular and set the groundwork for all things that are “cool” on campus. If this group likes torn pants, everyone wears torn pants. If this group thinks dances are lame, school dances will be utter failures. It is the ONE thing I really detest about this age group.
Berdoll: From the teacher's standpoint, it takes more to keep them engaged than it did 17 years ago, yet they know more about different topics because they have a better chance of having seen or read something about it with internet exposure.  Also, if it's something they enjoy, further research on that topic is literally at their fingertips. The challenge, sometimes, is to get them to slow down—to lean into a challenge or a problem solving opportunity instead of needing an immediate answer and moving on.

What is the most dramatic change you've noticed in students over the years?

Hopkins: When I compare my current classes of students to those from two decades ago, I see shorter attention spans across the board. I have far more English language learners and students that are economically disadvantaged. I have taught in the same school for 19 years and the shift in demographics is noticeable. I have observed more students struggling with academic language every year (this includes my native English speakers). In a society where thoughts and conversations are reduced to 140 characters or less, students seem less equipped to communicate technical ideas, and think abstractly or critically–in essence, communicate effectively.
Berdoll: They still need acceptance, they still need a place to "fit" and they still need someone to cheer them on and find value in what they do each day. They need to be appreciated for where they are today and know that someone is on their side. They still need to know that their thinking matters.

High School

Amy Allen 
Math at Westlake High School
Austin, Texas
21 years working in education

What is the most dramatic change you've noticed in students over the years?

It’s a battle every day. Next year I'm going to actually have them check their phones in when they walk in because if you don't tell them to put them up, they're on them constantly. They're Snapchatting, Instagramming, or doing whatever else on social media. I've got a couple of kids that can't not be on their phones.

What have been some positive changes?

I've had issues but it’s also really good that all of their textbooks are online so they can just have their [school issued] iPad with them and they can access all of their textbooks. And then we keep a class set of class books. So that's really nice that they don't have to carry textbooks around so you don't have the backpack problems anymore. 



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