Time moves pretty quick, trends come and go, technology advances, and the kids you remember being little start growing up and get replaced by a whole new generation of students. It’s hard to keep up with it all sometimes.
No one gets to see the generational gap like teachers do though. Here, 21 teachers reveal the big differences between students they had in 1997, 2007 and 2017. Enjoy! And make sure to check out the sources for even more.
1. Attack-helicopter parenting.
My dad taught middle school from 1968 until fairly recently. When he retired I asked him what changes he saw in students from the beginning of his teaching career to the end. He answered; “The kids never changed. A teenager is always a teenager. The parents however, changed dramatically. They used to respect teachers and side with us in disciplinary matters, but now they think their kids are perfect and we are wrong.”
He’s glad he got out before things got worse.
2. Eventually it’s history, not news.
’97 – (Little regard to terrorism) ’07 – “Remember 9/11?” ’17 – “Can you explain what 9/11 was? I wasn’t born yet.”
As a history teacher it’s been interesting and difficult trying to instill the gravity of events to people who weren’t even born at the time. I imagine it was a similarly strange scenario for teachers who taught during the attack on Pearl Harbor or the assassination of JFK. Strange to have major life events turn to just another historical story for kids within a few short years. At the same time, it gives me motivation to keep teaching with the same passion as if the events just happened so kids continue to understand its importance.
3. The singularity approaches.
’97 – “Quit passing notes” ’07 – “Quit texting” ’17 – “Are you seriously watching Netflix right now?”
4. An unexpected turn of personality.
Graduated high school and went to college in the late 90s, started teaching at the college level in mid-2000s, still teaching at the college level.
I would say that in general I didn’t notice much of a difference between when I went to college and when I started teaching at college. I went to a state school, I now teach at a (different) state school. Students generally got done what they needed to get done, partied, enjoyed chatting and having fun in the classroom, and more or less seemed to live their lives fairly similarly to how I did.
The last few years have been different, and I’m not entirely sure why, and it is specifically the last few years when the shift occurred. I’ve spoken with numerous other teachers about this, and everyone I talk to about it that’s been teaching for a while seems to have noticed. (Story continues…)
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As people have noted, students now are more diligent. They work really hard, they’re polite, quiet, but are woefully unprepared for adulthood. Yet, they’re almost to the last all fairly “corporate” and “professionalized.” They act like they are all intending to become middle managers. The idea of college education as anything other than (incredibly expensive) job training is lost on them — likely due to that “incredibly expensive” part. They diligently do busy work, but when asked to do creative, novel, or independent work/analysis, it’s like they’re a computer that’s crashed. They’re also less anti-authoritarian than I’ve seen in the past. This is helpful for classroom management, but I worry about a society of people who unquestioningly do busywork, can’t think independently, and blindly listen to authority.
If you think it’s just me, all teachers teaching incoming freshman last year had to attend a lecture series given by a couple of the deans regarding the demographics and habits of our incoming freshman.
Basically, the takeaway was this: We should not expect students to be able to pay attention in class. We should not expect students to be able to socialize easily with their classmates. We should not expect students to be able to understand and/or figure out a syllabus. We should not expect students to be able to manage their own personal affairs outside of the classroom. We should not expect them to be able to self-task in terms of research/self-education. We should expect more phone calls from parents, more parental intervention, and a heavy reliance on parents by our students who, we were informed, are likely texting their parents during and/or immediately after classes if they get grades they feel are unfair. Most of the “we should not expect students to be able to do X” comes from research that the deans cited (I don’t remember if it was from our university or published in a journal or what) that shows that most of those issues stem from that extreme reliance on other people, typically parents for younger students, through all of their K-12 education. AKA, their parents did so much for them down to explaining class expectations and how a course works (syllabuses), that now that they’re expected to do it on their own, they can’t because they’ve never really done it.
I think the deans maybe were a bit hyperbolic, but most of that does seem to be true for a lot of students now, and I will say this: until three years ago, I had NEVER received a phone call or email from a parent regarding their children’s grades and/or academic performance. Since 2014, I have received numerous phone calls and probably a half dozen emails.
You want to see a helicopter parent lose their mind? Explain to them that their children are legally adults and due to FERPA guidelines, I can’t discuss their grades or academic performance with them. So, I don’t fault my students necessarily, and I don’t know if this is a long-term trend or not, but I definitely have noticed a pretty significant change in my students over the last few years. I also get the sense that they may know that there is something different about them vs. previous generations of college students, as I find them expressing concern about themselves and their classmates. They say things about people struggling to look each other in the eye, or make small talk, etc.
5. Perfectly calculated plan.
1997 – “You won’t always have a calculator with you everywhere you go in life!”
2017 – “Before beginning the test, every student must disable the multi-function calculator that goes with them everywhere in life.”
6. No more oregano.
I was a student in 1997 at the school I now teach at. 2017 students are infinitely more polite, harder working and more intelligent than my cohort ever was. They’re much less likely to smoke, they don’t drink cider on the playing field at lunchtime, and they don’t sell each other terrible weed in industrial quantities. I gather they sell each other excellent quality weed in very small quantities instead. (Story continues…)
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It’s a big secondary school on a fairly deprived estate, so these aren’t exactly kids who go to etiquette classes after school. But I literally can’t open a door by myself because some 16-year-old with mutton chops will spring out to open it for me. If I’d done that when I was at school, it would have been instant social death.
7. Like goldfish.
Since I’m an old fart who has been teaching forever, I will give my impression. The main difference I see is in attention span and impulsivity. The 2017’ers cannot focus on only one thing. If I am talking, they will be doing 10 other things. They have the attention span of a gnat and can’t sit still for love nor money. But, if I stop and ask what I just said, they can usually quote me word for word. I’ve seen an exponential increase in attention deficit and vestibular issues.
But the really strange thing is they just don’t seem curious. Maybe they are so bombarded with information they don’t need to be? Where kids before would ask lots of questions, want to know and find out things, the 2017’ers just seem like flat-liners who could care less. Content knowledge has been watered down because “they can just google it”, but they don’t! If I had had google at their age, I would have been in heaven. 2017’ers can literally find out anything in the world they want to know at the touch of a few buttons, and they just can’t be bothered. Or can’t still long enough to do it. That’s one elementary teacher’s take though.
8. My life as a teenage robot.
As a college instructor, teaching all of them right now, taking those years as one year removed from HS graduation.
97: I’m taking school seriously to better myself and my career. 07: I should have not taken all those gap years, c’s get degrees. 17: Oh crap if I don’t get at least a Master’s I’m going to be made redundant by a robot.
9. Teacher’s pet.
Recently had a parent/teacher conference with my daughter’s 7th Grade Science Teacher. For reference here: 20 years ago I was in the 7th grade.
I asked why my daughter’s grade was so low in Science. The teacher looks at my daughter with this teasing, friendly manner and is like “I don’t know kiddo, why’s it so low?” She fesses up that she didn’t turn in two of her lab notes. “That’s right and you have zeroes, but we talked about it today didn’t we and you’re going to get those in.” “Yeah, you know it girl.” They giggle and do some weird high five inside joke thing. You’d have thought they were best friends. (Story continues…)
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Two things drastically different from 20 years ago:
1) I would have gotten chewed out at that meeting for even wasting a teacher’s time when I know I wasn’t turning in my homework. She would have looked at my mother and been like “He’s going to fail, there’s nothing I can do about it.” These days my child would have to literally skip school for like 2 weeks to fail.
2) Her teacher was smoking hot. All of her teachers are, they are all young and hip and seem really laid back. My teachers were all over 45, hanging on to tenure, and hated everything about their lives.
10. It’s just a prank bro.
Senior Pranks in 1997 were outlandish and acceptable. Senior Pranks in 2007 were less common and more basic. In 2017 Senior Pranks are illegal.
11. Anger leads to hate. Hatred leads to suffering.
All teens rebel. They all think they have it right and the grownups have it wrong… but they show it differently.
In 97 the prevailing word was Anger. “I HATE the way things are..” Kids were harsher. Meaner. Being nasty was the way to show you’re cool. I saw a lot of kids get their kicks out of breaking the Santa illusion for grade schoolers for example. 17 kids are much nicer to each other. Think of the music of the time, Smashing Pumpkins, NIN, and the like. “In spite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage”
In 07 the word was Mope. Kids were softening up, being nicer to eachother, but also getting more into the “Sadness is beautiful” kind of thing. They weren’t angry at the adults so much as they just wanted them to go away and hide into their hoodies. “Leave me alone to my solitude.” Consider the way Emo was huge at this time.
In 17 kids are MUCH nicer to each other. They’re kind to young kids and friendlier in general… but there’s this strange undercurrent of competition to be “The Most Good Person” which leads to the weird “Yes Mayonnaise is a gender if that’s how you identify” kind of thing. In ’17 kids want to explain to the grownups how they’re all bigots. They also handle failure FAR worse than previous generations. ’17 kids try harder and genuinely want to succeed in ways that the ’97 kids didn’t. In ’97 you were cool if you avoided working hard and didn’t care if you failed… but ’97 kids also recovered from adversity faster. They didn’t bruise as easily. They were harder, meaner kids, but also didn’t quit as easily and thrived on constructive criticism.
Now there’s bits of each of these personality types in every year. There were nice kids who were also soft in 97, and there are mopey emo types now… but the prevailing culture shifted these ways.
12. Plugged in.
I’d argue the biggest difference is technology. In the nineties, pagers were all the rage and the internet was relatively new to the masses and something you did sitting down at a computer (and excruciatingly slow). So as a teenager we spent a lot of time hanging out with each other one on one with an absence of technology. Sometimes we’d try to play video games, but multiplayer was limited to a local network or split screen. Most commonly we’d just take turns. But I’d argue, technology was not something we spent a lot of time on, but rather dabbled with. That’s definitely way different from kids today. (Story continues…)
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2007 was at the beginning of the smartphone revolution. Many (maybe most) students at this point have cell phones. Social media, youtube were coming of age. And that has changed students a lot, in my opinion. I used to get annoyed/borderline angry when I saw a group of people all on their phones.
You’ll hear, ‘back in my day kids (fill in the blank)’ from other teachers. And it’s for the most part nonsense. Kids are kids. Teens are teens. Some are put together. Some have huge obstacles to overcome.
Progress that has been made. It seems to me that young people are much more tolerant of other people’s sexual orientation, culture and religion compared when I was a kid. I don’t know anyone from my 700+ high school that was out of the closet or identified as anything other than Christian publicly. I never thought I would see gay marriage happen, or pot legalized for that matter. And now the focus on transgender issues is at society’s forefront. The fact that kids care about these sorts of things now can not be over looked and discounted.
So back in my day, kids played outside and with each other teaching kids them healthy social relationships. But people that weren’t the “norm” were silenced.
These rascals today spend too much time on their phones but live in a more accepting society. Oh yeah, and have dank memes.
13. The height of fashion.
1997: Colorful hair and piercings.
2007: No colorful hair, lots of tattoos.
2017: Colorful hair and tattoos.
14. No risk, no reward.
I teach English at a rural high school. The biggest issue for 2017 students is that they have almost zero self confidence. I don’t know if this is a product of culture, or if this is just a fluke with my students. However, they are unwilling to try anything challenging or new without an extreme amount of one on one guidance. And that’s very difficult to give in a classroom of 30.
15. Students through the ages.
Since I’ve taught for a really long time, I’ll go back even further with the comparisons.
1967: A willingness to disagree and challenge anything and everything, a desire for moral justice, extreme idealism, a view of the world both romantic (things could be wonderful if we only treated each other with respect) and cynical (many people are in it only for their only good and some people are oligarchs). Getting high grades not a major focus for most, but having a good life was. Getting into a good college was hardly ever a focus of students’ lives since many different colleges were seen as just fine.
– Short hair and traditional clothing for the most part (believe it or not).
– Students worked hard but very few were given A’s and most did not expect them. Courses were challenging and most students were proud of B’s. College was the next step, but any decent college that made you happy was seen as good. (Story continues…)
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1977: Idealism, enthusiasm, experimentation, and a certain degree of wackiness with many students who were a joy to teach.
– Hair was much longer, clothing much more creative, sometimes quite odd.
– Students willing to work hard, but more expected A’s and got them (grade inflation had begun). A great academic shift: Courses had become much more casual, less challenging in many cases. Students now expecting higher grades, but without strong concerns over college.
1987: Suddenly, it seemed everyone only wanted to “get rich,” go into business or investments, idealism dropped, self-centeredness rose (Thank you, Ronald Reagan). Students no longer challenged what teachers said, but only wanted to know how to get an “A” and get into a good college.
– Clothing more traditional again, preppie looks popular, hair shorter.
– Grade inflation continued with many more students expecting A’s, courses became easier. The “best” college became a concern for many whatever the “best” college meant to someone.
1997: Gaming and other distractions dragged down literacy as reading declined, students seemed less focused, had shorter attention spans, focus still on material success but with some idealism about the world (thank goodness). Students had fun in private, and in public seemed increasingly stressed about college and life. Students still sociable (no cell phones) and willing to talk, looked at you in the hallway.
– Clothing back to normal but much less colorful and creative than in the ’70s, frankly boring.
– Students focused much more intently on high grades, many more high grades now being given, A’s became typical in many courses which had become much easier than ever before, more joke courses with light requirements, tremendous grade inflation clear throughout the curriculum, intense focus on getting into a top college as the route to success.
2007: Students insanely focused on high grades and good colleges (whatever “good” colleges are). Obsession with gaming and other technological amusements increased, cell phones became a constant obsession with most students as casual chats in the hallway nearly disappeared. Students less sociable, did not even look at you in the hallway any more. Students willing to work hard, knowledgeable about the world, but not much interested in other peoples and cultures as focus turned toward themselves.
– Clothing standard and dull
– Grade inflation continued to increase with some courses now giving only A’s, workload issues grew as schools worried about “stress,” “overwork” even though it had never been easier to do well in school, college focus dramatically grew with students entirely obsessed with getting into top colleges.
2017: College, grades, college, grades. No joy left. Students continued to be very pleasant, but had little social concern other than vague generalized “rights,” awareness of the world, occasional campaigns to fix world problems (which never worked) always fizzled out before they made any progress. Much more concern over being warned in class about difficult discussions and images so they could prepare themselves (ie. far less resiliency than past students), much greater sensitivity over every possible gender and race issue, greater resentment if you did not see them as “special” due to their inherent characteristics.
– Clothing boring and standardized
– Grades at least half A’s. To not get an A now seen as a “problem” to be talked about with the teacher. College obsession reached its peak with nearly every student obsessed from grade 7 onward with getting into a top college. No joy in high school since no time for fun. This combined with worry about overwork, stress, etc. (which seemed a bit contradictory)