Changing student needsAs an "experienced" teacher retiring at the end of this year, I am spending quite a bit of time reflecting on my career and the changes I've seen in education since I started....

Changing student needs

As an "experienced" teacher retiring at the end of this year, I am spending quite a bit of time reflecting on my career and the changes I've seen in education since I started. The change that has occupied the largest part of my thinking time has been the enormous changes I've seen in our student population.

I'm distressed and concerned by the students who have no respect for themselves or anyone else and whose classroom conduct reflects their complete lack of any self-discipline or acceptance of responsibility for their own actions. There are lots of good, motivated, eager-to-learn students out there, but they are too often overwhelmed in the classroom by a small number of disruptive individuals who can quickly derail the best laid lesson plans.

I recognize changing social patterns and how environmental conditions have shaped our students, but what does the future hold for us when these "behaviorally-challenged" youth become the adults of tomorrow?

Expert Answers
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Students, I think, are generally pretty accurate reflectors of the society they live in, and often serve as early warning systems when things are going wrong. I don't like to think of myself as the crazy old lady who stands in the front yard yelling at people, but I don't like some of the ways our society has changed in the last thirty years, and I don't like the effects those changes have had on many of our kids. To say ours is a permissive society would be an understatement; we're living in a "say anything, do anything" environment with few brakes on what once would have been considered outrageous behavior--but I suppose that was probably the view of many parents/teachers during the Roaring 20s.

One difference now is a general breakdown in civil public behavior with a lot of adults out there, famous and not famous, setting some miserable examples, which are then publicized almost instantly for all to share. Like water on rock, adults behaving badly erodes previous standards of acceptable social behavior, and the effects show up in our classrooms. I don't believe that students essentially are much different today; many of them just lack standards of behavior, social brakes, and an understanding and fear of consequences. This makes our job harder, of course; in order to teach, we have to create an environment in the classroom that is more disciplined and conservative than that of the outside world. Often we have to teach students how to behave before we can teach them anything else.

How will they do in the world after they leave us? Most will do fine as maturity sets in and the school of hard knocks teaches its own lessons. Some of the most difficult students, I've noticed, grow up to be pretty strict parents!

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with most of the points above...there are always two sides of the coin.  While as an adult, I can commiserate that students are sometimes lazy, disrespectful, and undisciplined, we must also look at differences in learning styles.  These same students who are "behaviorally challenged" may just be bored stiff in a classroom where the teaching style hasn't adjusted to meet the needs of the students who have grown up in a technologically advanced world.  As teachers, we must not be afraid to morph with the times and learn new ways to get across the information.  We must not be the "sage on the stage" and expect the students of today to respond as we did when we were students...I, too began high school in 1982, and began teaching in 1991.  There have been many changes and challenges as I moved from one coast to the other and to different countries to teach. 

The future is worrisome for many things, but I do believe that today's young people will find their niche and will perform beautifully.  I can't tell you how many people I went to school with who may have been catagorized as a "waste of space and air" but were "turned on" in college in a way that made high school pale in comparison.  They are brilliantly successful today, and I think the students we teach today will also one day "wake up" and smell the coffee (or energy drinks). 

Congratulations on your retirement!  Don't worry about these kids.  They'll be fine.  Maybe they'll all go into politics and our national debt and healthcare issues will finally be fixed.  Maybe they'll cure cancer.  There's a lot of cool stuff for them to accomplish, and I have faith that they'll get it done.

bigdreams1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I could have written your post, as I too have seen an increasing level of disrespect and "entitlement" mentalities among my students. Each year the incoming freshmen are more disruptive, rude, crude, and under-motivated.

My take on the reasons is that mom and dad have made life too easy for these kids. Where I teach, there are several kids that are handed keys to brand new vehicles on their 14th birthdays (You can drive at 14 here). They have all kinds of disposable money. Parents set no curfews and assign no chores at home. At school...parents tend to side with the student against the teacher and administration goes along with it because they are afraid of lawsuits.

What I thinks this means for the future is not so much a catastrophe, but more a delay in maturity.   A lot of these kids seem to eventually figure things out...but not until teachers and parents make them face the consequences for their actions. Unfortunately, I think it often takes a "wake up call" experience once the kids leave home to scare them into the belief that they must earn what they get in life.

larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have experienced the same attitudes as indicated by the poster--lack of respect, lackadaisical attitudes towards school work, indications that they consider school something as time served rather than an opportunity to prepare for the future. It is disheartening to me and many teachers as our efforts seem to fall upon deaf ears. There seems to be an atmosphere of permissiveness that has pervaded our entire society; there is more emphasis on individuality and personal freedom than on individual responsibility and respect for others.

Having said that, I am optimistic enough to believe that this too will pass. It is discouraging for those of us who put heart and soul into our work; but I firmly believe the present permissive atmosphere bears within itself the seeds of its own destruction. I doubt I will still be teaching--or perhaps even alive--when our young people realize the folly of their ways and self correct; but I firmly believe that it will happen.


accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Congratulations on making it through to retirement! I do find the same characteristics in a number of students, but I wonder whether we need to first question whether it is our teaching methods that need to change before we blame students. What I mean is students nowadays grow up in a very different world compared to to the world that people of our years grew up in, and I think that massive changes have occurred thanks to globalisation and the internet, certainly concerning how we deal with and find out knowledge. I do find that students can display the same amount of passion and dedication if you manage to find or present a topic in a way that appeals to them. I have been amazed at how suddenly apathetic students are "turned on" by a certain topic. I do think that there are perhaps more apathetic students, but I also think we need to ask ourselves some questions before we lament the changing student population.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm an optimist, so I'm inclined to think that things will turn out okay.  Because I think things will turn out okay, I'm inclined to argue with your basic premise, which is that kids today are worse than kids in the past.

I started high school in 1982, probably around when you started teaching.  The students I teach today resemble (in my opinion) the ones with whom I went to school.  I don't think that those days were a golden age where kids were all eager to learn and respectful of their teachers.  My teachers certainly didn't think so, at least.

I worry for the future, but I worry more because of things like the national debt and global warming.  I don't think that today's students are any worse, on average, than my cohort was.

I hope you'll be able to look back on your career with pleasure and pride.  I'm sure you helped a lot of people.  Congratulations on your retirement!

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I also offer my congratulations on a career of public service!  I hope you enjoy your retirement.  I ask myself these same questions now and again, and often have a hard time deciding if I have changed or the students have, or what mix of both. 

I have a couple of theories.  One, this latest generation is much more electronically plugged in, and social relationships by cell phone, text and Facebook do not necessarily promote positive or polite personal interactions. 

Secondly, I think by removing many of the electives and artistic/musical options for kids to take in favor of the "fundamentals" of reading and writing and math, capped off by the emphasis on test scores, the students don't buy into the public school concept as much as they once did.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I, too, congratulate you for making it to retirement. I agree 100% with your statements concerning lack of respect and discipline. It's one reason I quit teaching in public schools and moved on to a private school, where disciplinary problems are reduced significantly and mandatory state testing is not required. What's in store for future students? I only see it getting worse. Until parents accept the responsibility of preparing their children for social settings, and until students recognize that they are responsible for their own actions, things will only worsen.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have noticed the same thing, but it also depends on where you have been teaching.  Some schools go through population shifts, such as from a mostly middle class student body to a mostly poor population.  These kinds of shifts make quite a difference in the behavior of students.  I have noticed that in different schools, the behavior of students differs too.  I agree with the others who have said that most of these kids will grow up to be good people.  Some of them will fill the jail cells.