My sister has been a high school teacher for 25 years and she tells me stories about how the kids have changed throughout the years.
Because you know what they say…those darn kids today!
And that saying exists for a reason…
Teachers who have been around for a while talked about which generation they’ve enjoyed teaching the most on AskReddit. Let’s see what they had to say.
1. Good kids.
“I like the kids I teach now.
They are, for the most part, really peaceful. We have so few fights on campus.
They are really accepting. LGBTQ folks would have been beaten when I was a kid, now it’s no factor. General apathy and major boredom rule the campus, but my kids still get up to fun.”
2. Gen Z’ers.
“I love my Gen-Zs.
They know us Elder Millennials saw some sh*t, and they are happy to lean right into the complete Iliza Schlesinger bit that we’ll do about basically everything pre-2005.
They’ll call out stuff like “Tell us about floppy disks!” and “Tell us about dial-up!” and “What about Surge, ma’am?” and I just do my best Madam Razz impression (reboot, not original She-Ra, these are Gen-Zs,) tell them about these things, and then reveal -to amazed gasps- an actual can of post-revival Surge, for whatever student can write me the best 250 words about a controversy of 1980 through 1985 before I get back from the john.
I handed out seven cans of Surge this week just on this topic. My students are glorious. I also saw one of my colleagues, who coaches a sport, happily sitting down to a wonderful lunch she had packed herself, took out a can of Surge, opened it, smelled it, savored it, saw me noticing and “I know, I know, it’s so bad for you. But I haven’t had this since I was a kid!” and I said “Not judgin’ here, love!”
And she described how one of her kids gave it to her after first period as a present and how she’d been looking forward to it all day and I remembered that one of my best writers, one of our best student athletes, is both Type I diabetic and just the sweetest person.
So I stopped by the good grocery store and got a bit of sugar-free Ramune, the fanciest and most delicious kind, which shall be theirs.”
3. Big shifts.
“I’ve been teaching in the humanities at a pair of universities for 11 years.
My main observation is that students don’t want a “think” piece anymore, they want a “doing” piece.
This shift happened about 5 years in to my tenure. It was a real break in what the students expected, and I felt compelled to adapt to it.
So a syllabus is now less “let’s learn about and reflect on a framework” and more “I want to do this myself first, then maybe we’ll see if there’s a framework there worth talking about.”
This can actually be a really good thing. I’m kind of a phenomenologist myself so I’m more or less theoretically oriented to the idea of learning equally from the experience of one’s self and from the experience of others. And then critiquing, reflecting, and acting on those experiences as a perfectly legitimate basis for a lot of good things that can come next.
But on the other hand, no one wants to read any more. It’s all bullet points and takeaways, slide decks and checklists, “gotta juggle my five classes but also my three side hustles”.
It encourages a kind of faddish approach, and frankly almost psychopathic and disconnected. It’s not about learning, it’s about extracting. On the cynical side of things, one might conclude that the students want to be given the cheat sheet so they can perform to others that “they know.” Everyone wants to be “a leader.”
This can cut both ways. For the students to be primed to apply what they’ve learned as and whenever it arises has arguably more practical impact in practice, so that’s good. But on the other hand, I feel that something deeper here with the academic process is being lost and very deeply devalued.
And I’m not so confident about what higher education will look like in 15 years as a result, particularly in context of the corporatized profit model that is already pressuring the academy in general.
It’s like every subject has become an MBA. And we used to poke fun of those guys for being problem-solving droids happily operating in narrow little boxes of their own making.
So that’s one big shift.
The other big shift I feel I am living through as a teacher is the total diminution of the classical era. The 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s had their fair share of prophets of radical socio-technological change. But it’s only really now in the post-truth social media bot and AI-content-warped world of literal augmented reality that it has finally come to be.
Our globalized world is so radically different now that Greeks, Romans, Renaissance and even early modernists are all just looking like a quaint bunch of vaguely charming and very embarrassing (“cringe”) Neanderthals. A restatement of origins like “Hamilton” is about as far back as anyone feels they’d ever need to bother looking.
I frequently imagine the great contrarian Nietzsche himself feeling sidelined as the aging and irrelevant hippy amidst a world that has rendered his protest against the human condition itself as anachronistic.
There’s a radical un-mooring from history taking place and, combined with the new approach to learning I describe above, it’s really hard to feel any confidence in where the eff it’s going to take us.
The trend feels very technocratic in direction. And while that can be an admirably evidence-driven form of politics (“trust the science” as Biden feels compelled to repeat, for instance), it can also very easily subordinate a lot of values, rights, and principles that don’t look any more compelling as a bunch of bullet points than anything else on the to-do list.”
4. 1990s kids.
“I’ve been teaching for 28 years.
I’ll take the children if the 1990s because cell phones didn’t distract the students and most parents didn’t try to blame the teachers on the failures of their child.”
5. Much easier these days.
“I like teaching NOW because we have a lot of technology that makes things easier.
No more grading tests by hand, or standing in line to run scan-trons.
6. More respectful now.
“I like them all.
But my favourite thing about this generation is that they are in general more respectful, polite and empathic.”
7. Mom’s POV.
“My mother taught 6 year olds in the 60s, 80s and 90s.
The kids didn’t change much but the paperwork, administration and social work got too much for her at the end. Kids coming to school not being fed, reeking of smoke and pot.
And parents went from being allies to some becoming outright hostile for their kids being given the slightest reprimand – like “Jheydenn, you didn’t help tidy up so you’ll need to wait for the other children to go play before you can go”. Oh and names.
Not cultural, but badly spelled and weird names like “Hastalavista” and “Fordescort”. She still loves running into her old kids, many of whom had children she taught, and some are now grandparents.”
8. Reflections of society.
“It’s difficult to compare generations, but I can tell you something students are a reflection of the society around them, and if I compare students I have a had to what I was like there is a dramatic difference which I put down to social change.
The two most dramatic differences that I notice are that students now are far more emotional sensitive, which can be a good, or bad thing, and far less independent of thought. Social media, more standardized testing, less real life difficulties, and more imagined ones all contribute to this.
When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s I never worried about my future, and I didn’t feel any pressure socially to conform. I was always encouraged by friends and society to think, act, and learn independently. There were no universal right answers, and very little outside expectations.
Now, I find students feel constantly under pressure to outcompete each other, attain artificial goals, and not offend anyone. For a long time I taught graduates basic academic skills because schools either ignored, or refused to teach basic rhetorical, discussion or argumentative skills.
It is my default setting to assume the current generation of students, cannot automatically play devils advocate, or challenge accepted viewpoints. They are constantly being forced to accept whichever sides argument is dominant, and seem conditioned to follow whoever they have told to follow. It is a frightening situation.
Also, artificial competition has hollowed out people’s lives. Growing up me and everyone I knew had interests and hobbies. I rarely find that now with young people. And the interest and hobbies people do have have changed.
When I ask people what they do in their free time, the number one answers are always, browse social media, shop, and meet up with friends to take photos for social media.
Actually, that is being generous, the most common answer I get is actually ‘nothing.’ Students at high school and university don’t even seem to be able to manage the old cliched ‘s*x, drugs, and rock’n’roll.’ Bravado that dominated my generation, and the generations for that. People don’t seem to have the time, or energy to even enjoy themselves now.
It must suck being young now, or at least that is what I was told.”
“I have taught emotionally disturbed children for much of my career.
The kids I had 25 years ago would constantly fight with each other. The kids I had most recently made a habit of going after me and the parents always wanted to know what I did to provoke them.
Give me my mid-1990s kids any day! They loved me as their teacher and didn’t tolerate any disrespect towards me from their peers.”
“Started teaching in 2002. All of that has been middle school. Grades 6-8 (Ages 11-14)
Biggest changes have been prevalence and reliance on screens and devices, but ultimately what kids want is acceptance. And most of them will seek it wherever it can be found easily, which is on a screen.
All I can really say is that I am incredibly grateful that Facebook and social media did not exist when I was a kid/teenager.”
11. Bad writers.
“I’m a philosophy professor and the only thing I’ve noticed is that the latest generation of students (zoomers?) are like, really really bad at writing. Like, obscenely.
Every other generation I’ve taught has been roughly the same, with different philosophical predilections, but for some reason everyone’s just really bad at writing now (let alone philosophy).”
12. It was a simpler time.
“I recently passed my 10 year mark, so I’ve taught 2000s and 2010s.
Biggest difference is the coursework. Man do schools (and parents) love to cram so much work into such little time. They like having something to “show” for their kids schooling. Gone are the days when we could explore and learn. Where we could discuss topics, or I could even read them non-curriculum books, or do fun experiments.
Oh, little Timmy is 4 years old? Better start learning to write upper and lowercase alphabet letters perfectly. But don’t give the kids pressure. And don’t take away play time if they can’t finish in the allotted 10 minutes. But make sure they finish on time and there aren’t mistakes or you (the teacher) will get reprimanded for it.
Also the parents. They used to think being a teacher was a noble and respected job. Now many tell me that they know more than me despite my education and experience.
And god forbid I tell them their child made a mistake or had a behavioural incident. Then I’m either lying, or the kid didn’t mean it so how could I dare ask them to receive any consequence for their actions.
Parents are constantly undermining teachers, and the schools will throw teachers under the bus to keep a child’s tuition any day.
I also work in a private school. So the more money a family has, usually the worser the parents/children.
I miss the 2000s. A simpler time.”
13. Do what you want.
“I taught in the late 70s, early 80s in northern Alberta.
The nice part about being that early in my career, plus in northern Alberta, was that you could pretty much do whatever you wanted. My kids found an injured duck on the playground and we brought it into the classroom and spent weeks nursing that duck back to health.
As the duck grew stronger, he would do these practice flights in our classroom to the point where he would do a couple of laps around the room and my kids wouldn’t even get excited about it. Later in that same year we grew hydroponic tomato plants that went from floor to ceiling and were able to harvest tomatoes in the middle of winter.
Man, that was a great year! Pretty sure you couldn’t do most of that in a grade one classroom these days.”
14. Comparing themselves.
“In my mind kids have always been good at heart, but society and their upbringing is what ultimately shapes or corrupts them.
Unfortunately, I think more kids nowadays have mental health issues since they unconsciously compare themselves to their peers. The difference is 20+ years ago kids only compared themselves to the few hundred kids in their school.
Nowadays, they are comparing themselves to the millions of kids they see online.”
15. Breaking down the years.
“97 – sarcastic, grungy, smoking more cigarettes, more clique-y and edgy
07 – petty, attention starved, overwhelmed, but much nicer
17 – under so many layers of irony and memes they dont even know who they are anymore or care. there’s no point in being creative or devolving a personality, anything you could think of has already been done.”
16. Here’s the deal.
“Honestly it is not so much the generation but the age group and the relative interest and if you connect with the students or not (and they connect with you as a teacher and respect you as an educator who has their best interests at heart)
I like the younger students for their curiosity and eagerness and excitement when new ideas are being introduced or there is some challenge/learning-related contest going on in the class. This gets more difficult to cultivate as a group-energy level in the puberty years, and easier afterwards.
But I’ve had some kids in the 12-14 age group come in during lunch to continue their activity just because they were so engaged in what we were doing, and I was cool with it as I ate my lunch in the classroom and therefore my classroom (I taught computers, so other labs were often locked after classes) was always open.
It is very obvious when you see the interest and level of engagement from a class that is ready to learn, it is almost like when an engine is reving up and all cylinders are firing in sequence; you can really feel the energy. But you notice the differences as some classes just ‘click’ with their teacher more than others, even in the same year.
For those who may be wondering why that is, I like to think of each class as a sort of team, as in sports. I suspect that if there is a certain threshold of active, curious and interested students in each class then that interest level and energy just is infectious and becomes the overall mood of the class. A few leaders in the class can raise the energy of the whole ‘team’.
Of course, it’s the same story if there are enough disinterested students in a class who honestly don’t want to be there and have no interest in learning.
Sprinkle in a few more who prefer to disrupt a class for laughs and that just drains the interest and excitement right out of the room unless the teacher or occasionally some students can reassert the need for respect so learning can continue uninterrupted.
It can really be apparent when you are teaching the same exact lesson to different classes on the same day as you will see which ones are into it and which ones just aren’t.”
17. Out of touch.
“I enjoyed the 1990s because there was still not a ton of technology.
One of the things I’ve noticed now is that my cultural references have absolutely tanked now.
I was teaching a course and literally NO ONE got my reference to The Matrix or Pulp Fiction or well … anything.”
It was the first time I felt that internal twinge of being “out of date” and realizing I was teaching 17-18 year olds who were being BORN when that movie came out.
I still love the job though. :)”
18. All downhill.
“When I started teaching in the early 2000s, students still got my most obscure Simpsons and 80’s film references. By the late 2000s, I had nothing left to reference.
By the early 2010’s my kid had reached adolescence, so I had new material, but it really wasn’t mine, and the culture had splintered so much that my Rick and Morty references only hit about 30% of the class.
Lately I just stopped trying, and became that old, out-of-touch Prof; I lived long enough to become the villain.”
19. Used to love it.
“Started teaching first grade in 1999. I loved teaching till about 2006.
Students were so eager to learn kept me on my toes. They were respectful and the parents were supportive. Little by little things started changing. Complaining about colors of napkins, words like angels, witch, . It kept getting worse. The amount of paperwork and meetings no time to teach.
The testing got in the way took time away from teaching and what was important which is the children. Little by little it took most of my energy. Stopped teaching after only 13 years.”
20. Mom’s thoughts.
“My mom was a teacher from the mid ’70s up until covid hit and she retired for good.
I think she liked ’80s and early ’90s kids best. Parents still had respect for the teacher, as did most kids, and our government had not yet ran education into the ground with cuts and overcrowded classrooms. Plus ’80s and ’90s kids had silly fads and were kind of quirky and fun.
She said the biggest difference now is resilience. Kids today have bigger difficulties with overcoming things, more anxiety issues, many refuse to even try something for fear they’re not good. It’s not an issue with the kids per say, generally most things can be traced back to parents, who are putting more pressure on kids.
Also, the biggest difference is parents. It used to be parents and teacher were more a united front. Now parents are angry at the teacher if their kid doesn’t do their homework or work in class, or accuse the teacher of lying if the teacher says their kid did something bad.
I’m a teacher too, but have been teaching less than 10 years, so I have little comparison. But I can say that as a kid in the 90s, I can’t remember other kids saying “no” to teachers. We may have groaned or whined, but we didn’t refuse.
Today I’ll have an activity or game and kids will flat out say “no. I’m not doing that”. Kids refuse to participate to my face. I hear “no” all the godd*mn time, and it’s frustrating when I know my lesson slaps. They just say no to everything.
Also kids complain when you put on a movie. It used to be, when your teacher wheeled in the big TV cart, the class cheered. We didn’t care what it was. Now all you get is “ugh no I don’t like this movie/ I’ve already seen it/I don’t want to watch/ this is boring” and I’m like HOW DO YOU CHILDREN NOT LIKE MOVIE DAY.”
21. A big difference.
“Started teaching at university in the 2000s.
Kids were really cliquey (into what sub-culture or tribe they were in and didn’t mix) and intolerant of difference (of any kind). Was 10 years older than them, most had no idea how to save a file on the computer into different formats. Had to tell kids not to describe things they didn’t like a ‘gay’ ALL THE TIME.
In the 2010s they started being better at technology, but worse at fixing it when it went wrong, getting more tolerant, more likely to mix. 2020s kids are really tolerant, kinder, but much, much sadder.”
22. We need better parenting.
“Started teaching in 1985, retired in 2015.
I enjoyed teaching in all of those years and enjoyed knowing almost all of my students. I feel that any observations I might make would be so prejudiced by my own reactions to the era and my own aging that it’s a bit of a ridiculous question.
I do think that more people need to commit to better parenting, as I was appalled by how scarred many students were by sheer parental neglect and abuse, regardless of the era. I don’t think abuse has become any more prolific, but I recognized it more and more as I became a veteran teacher.
Other than that, talking about people by generations is just another way to divide us and keep us quarreling; otherwise we might notice that we’ve all become the property of corporations. And they don’t want that.”
23. No accountability.
“Kids don’t change, but accountability is gone in my district.
First half of my career (90s, 00’s) students and parents were far more accountable. Today, if a student does not thrive, it is blame the teacher all day, every day. Teachers now compete with Tik Tok, Snap Chat, video games etc…and there is such a sense of entitlement, at least in my district.
The students are still great, but the adults have messed this up so bad. We have eliminated all deadlines in my district, and students can re-do an assignment over and over until they get the grade they want.
Consequences can be great learning experiences, but we are no longer able to apply them.”
Have you been teaching for a while?
If so, which generation of kids has been your favorite?
Tell us what you think in the comments!