Teaching This Generation

As a student, I wouldn’t characterize myself as a nerd but I definitely cared to do the best I could at school and took pride in getting good grades. There was no “switch” that went off, no epiphany, no life-changing moment that occurred. It was always just in my nature to compete; it could be basketball, a race, or who could spit the furthest. I always wanted to be better than my friends in whatever. School and school work was no different for me. The funny thing is, in my generation, there were a lot of boys in my class, grade or school that felt the same way. So getting a good grade and caring about the work you produced wasn’t really looked at as a “nerd thing” to do. Regardless of academic disposition, most of my boys (up to maybe ninth or tenth grade) actually tried when it came to class. Tried in everything from doing well on a test to working creatively on a title page. The culture instilled that in us.


See, back then, there were no vines, YouTube, or Instagram. You could catch the highlights of a ball game the next day but you would rather watch the whole thing the night before. There was no Twitter; you had something to say, you said the whole thing; no 140 characters or text message. Communication from my culture was explicitly purposeful (other than the talking on the phone but really not saying a damn word for hours). There were no “lol”, “smh”, “imo”, “ty” or even hashtags. Time and care were valued. Well, to use a Biggie line, “things done changed”.


Time has changed culture and the effects of that are seen everywhere. Valued information comes right now or it’s too late. When it comes now, it comes and goes. In this generation, we have information but the value of time and care is different. Not worse or better, just different.


Thus, teaching this generation must be different. If sticklers for handwriting are pushed to the wayside due to their lack of keeping “current”, how are pushers of “rote learning the basics” handled? Long gone are the multiplication sheets and the rote learning methods of math. Again, I am sitting right on top of that barbed-wire fence because although I “recently” was taught those methods as a student, I never taught that way as a teacher. I am too young in the game to gain a differing perspective on pedagogy to know how it affected/affects student learning. But what I do know (and am still learning to do) is how to coolly tight rope that fence and instill some “tradition” of culture with this new generation.


Case and point: I brought my own seventh grade science duotang in to show my current students. Yes, I still have some of my old school stuff from almost twenty years ago. But that very thing is my point. As I segwayed into this new science unit and passed around the duotang nonchalantly informing my students that it was, in fact, my science duotang from the same science class, I got some interesting responses that led to my thinking on how I might navigate teaching this generation.


As students flipped through a duotang that had science lab after science lab written neatly and organized, a title page that demonstrated a kid’s care for doing something with time and care although he may not be the best artist and notes that were scrupulously labored over, they looked up and saw a young guy with tattoos down to his wrist and shoes that they hoped to buy. The juxtaposition probably didn’t make sense to them. But I was willing to let those moments of discomfort marinate. Then I got a few comments that allowed me to teach to the culture.


“Mr. Morris, why do you even still have this?!?” It was “teachable moment” time, or what I like to call, “black-out season”. I patiently proceeded to tell her why. I talked about how I put effort into my work and although I may not have been the smartest student in the class, I still cared about the work that I produced. I cared so much that I tried my best and wanted to see how that teacher felt about it. When the teacher gave me a period to work on a title page, I worked. Sure, I talked to my friends, but I worked on it at school, went home and asked my parents to go to the dollar store so that I could get pencil crayons and then continued to work on it. When I had homework, I sat down and did it, put it in my duotang, waited for the teacher to check it, and then kept it. I talked about how, “in my generation” (damn, sounds like the “back in my day” talks I used to get but still listened to), we didn’t just throw away work right after we got our grades back. I blabbed about how “we didn’t have no delete button in the 90s”. And then, I told her (and this point I had the whole class’ attention) that while I understand that times have changed, certain things should not: and two of those things that should remain are time and care. When I was done my rant the class was silent. I told them they would have two periods to make their title page for the new unit…


The class was kind of silent after that.



I brought in this duotang to actually weigh in on my thoughts about the generational schism that has occurred in society and subsequently occurred in education. This student wasn’t just questioning me, she was questioning the culture I grew up in. But I came from a culture of caring and diligence, regardless of how you slice it. I am from the culture of television commercials and patience. To be honest, I don’t know if my message got through, but teaching this generation is definitely a trial-and-error type thing and I am prepared to try to bridge the culture gap that has me feeling old while simultaneously keeping me feeling young.


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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