By the end of the school year, I had piles of tests and quizzes, of duotangs full of student work. As the days wound down before summer break, I removed artwork from the walls and bulletin boards in the hallways. I sorted it all out by student name and walked through the classroom, handing back all of the memorable items my students had worked on over the last ten months. It was time to leave, to move on, and I was proud I could give them some things to commemorate their journey, their experience, their seventh grade year. By the time my students left, almost every single last piece of work I handed back was in the recycling bin. These kids didn’t want or care to bring a single thing home to keep. They were so different from the children of my generation. We held on to so much. But that was then and this was now. Something, as a teacher, that I had to adjust to. And that now was 10 years ago.
Now, like now now, we are so so far from then.
It took me a few years to grasp how my relationship with school would be vastly different from the students I taught. After all, I couldn’t expect that children born with iPads and IG’s by fourth grade would be inclined to hold on to their science fair projects or A+ math tests or a year’s worth or journal writings. But that realization, in a subtle, gradual way, changed how I taught. It changed how I looked at value and validation from a youth’s perspective. It changed how I looked at how youth looked at rewards, reinforcement and recognition. I became more in touch with my student needs by seeing how my students treated the things that they had already completed, the things they were finished with, the things they had moved on from.
Now, just when I felt like I had figured out a generation, it feels like I am teaching a brand-new, next one. They still throw their work away when it’s done, but more and more of them are finding it difficult to even finish. More and more of them are fighting against the quick dopamine hits of TikTok, the incessant streaks and group convos of Snapchat, the fleeting permanence of Instagram stories, and most importantly, the habitual inconsistency that was our last two school years.
Now, ten years later, I can hardly make it to the spring without exhausting all the methods, strategies, and styles I have accumulated over time. Now, so so many no longer work.
There are a lot of reasons why teachers, students, and schools are running on fumes. The main one is because the last two years of schooling have changed how students see schools, how teachers teach school, and how school is supposed to engage in the schooling of our next generation. We used to hold on to so much. Now, we all can’t wait to see what’s next. I simply don’t think we’ve quite realized this yet.