I graduated from high school 32 years ago.
I am now 50 years old and I went back to high school last August when I started my new job as a para-educator.
The changes I have noticed are astounding (and I do realize that I am about to sound like Grumpy Old Man from the 90’s Saturday Night Live cast):
1). In my day, the only phones we had were attached to the wall in the kitchen. Private conversations were non-existent (unless you had a long cord and could close yourself into the bathroom and whisper).
Obviously today, every kid has a cell phone. And they have them out constantly. (As I type this, I am watching a female student take selfie after selfie at the same time singing “I Want You To Want Me” while the class is reviewing for the test tomorrow).
The kids don’t even try to hide the fact that they are clearly on their phones while the teacher is teaching. They text and snapchat away. Some even listen to music with one earbud in.
I know of one teacher that collects the phones at the beginning of class and the students pick them up as they go out the door afterward. For the life of me, I do not understand why more teachers do not do this. The distraction of cell phones in the classroom are an incredible impediment to learning and it is very disturbing.
2) In my day, no one spoke back to the teacher or talked during class. EVER.
Today, kids chat with their friends during lectures as if they are in the lunch room. (And they may as well be: eating is now allowed during class. I have seen kids pull out boxes of leftover pizza, Chinese food, beef jerky, yogurt, candy, donuts, bagels, and individual tubs of ice cream. All washed down with coffee, soda, or energy drinks). Needless to say, when I was in school, we ate in one place and one place only: the cafeteria. If you were hungry before or after lunch, tough.
I have seen very little respect for teachers by some students. They are told to be quiet and they keep talking. They talk back. They complain about assignments. They have no compunction about swearing in the presence of a teacher, which does get them sent to the office.
When I was a student, if you were sent to the office, it was terrifying, resulting in instant nausea and incredible fear and dread. In all my years of high school, I didn’t even know what the principal’s office looked like and that was fine with me. On the rare occasion that one of your fellow students was sent to that frightful place, a solemn silence descended on the room and one dared to even barely breathe. We all knew that certain punishment and a phone call to the parents awaited that person.
Today, the students could care less. They leave the classroom either making jokes or being incredibly angry, loudly telling everyone in the room how unfair this is. The other students call out support or joke back. There is no fear or shame.
3) In my day, a deadline was a deadline. If you did not show up to class with your assignment done or ready to present your information, you got a zero. If you had to stay up all night to finish said assignment, that is what you did.
Today, due dates are mere suggestions. Don’t have your paper done or are not prepared to give your speech? No problem. You can hand it in tomorrow, one week from now, or at the end of the semester. Whatever is convenient for the student is just fine,
And if you fail a test, no problem! You can take it as much times as you need until you pass!
That is just so like the real world, isn’t it?
My school day begins at 7:20 every morning. This necessitates that I get up at 4:30, despite living only 5 minutes away from the high school. The reason for this is twofold: 1) I am not a morning person in any way and it takes me awhile to get moving and 2) I am not a natural beauty. Preparing to face the public takes significant time.
However, if one morning, I decide that 4:30 is just too early to get up, I can simply sleep in and get ready whenever I wake up. I can then saunter into school at around 10:00 or so. And if my boss asks me to have a report due to her by Friday at the end of the school day, I can tell her I’m just not ready and I will have it for her on Monday. Or Wednesday. Okay, next Friday at the latest. I could also stop by her office and whine a bit, saying it really is unfair that she is making me do this. Doesn’t she know how busy I am?! In meetings, I will text my friends and family with abandon, check Facebook, and cheerfully share a funny post with the co-worker sitting next to me while our boss is talking.
How long do you think I would have my job?
So what are we teaching today’s kids?! What kind of employees and citizens will they be? The behavior that is permitted in schools is NOT preparing them for real life outside these indulgent and permissive walls.
4) In my day, the popular singers/bands were (among others) Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, Aerosmith, Foreigner, U2, Journey.
And today, 80’s bands are still popular, including all those I mentioned above. It is surreal to hear kids speak on Monday mornings about seeing an 80’s band or singer in concert over the weekend. That was me thirty years ago!
That makes me extremely happy. (That and the fact that both my kids have quite a large amount of 80’s music on their phones. 🙂 ). As well they should. I raised them on it.
I do want to end this post on a high note. Yes, everything I said above is sadly true. However, there is also A LOT of good that I see:
*Teachers are amazing. I have met people here who truly have a passion for the profession and genuinely love the kids. They arrive early and they leave late. Their door is always open to any student who needs help or simply needs to talk. They volunteer their time to coach, run a club, or chaperone the prom. They are gifts to this school.
*There are some fantastic kids in this place. They are brilliant, funny, inquisitive, involved, talented, and passionate about what they believe in. They give me hope for the future.
*Sadly, school is the one safe place for some students. It is a place where the adults greet them with a kind word in the morning; where they can get a nutritious breakfast and lunch; where they are listened to and encouraged.
*Public school gets a really bad rap among homeschoolers. I know because I homeschooled my kids through eighth grade. Josh and Julia both started public school in 9th grade.
Once our decision was out among the homeschooling community, the reaction was swift and (mostly) negative. One woman came up to me with tears in her eyes and said, “How can you do this? You are feeding your kids to the wolves!”
That seemed a tad excessive to me.
Were there some ugly things? Absolutely.
(Yet, there were plenty of ugly things at the homeschooling co-op I took the kids to as well. There was bullying and sex and foul language and drug use. People are people).
The world can be a very ugly place. We dealt with the things that came up head on and our kids learned how to deal with them.
However, both our kids and Doug and me have made life-long friends as a result of our connection with our local high school. My kids met teachers who have had an enormous impact on them, who inspired them and encouraged their gifts.
For all the faults of the public school system (and there are many), it is crucial to acknowledge the huge amount of good that exists as well.
In the meantime, as I go throughout my day at the high school, I will no doubt continue to think many thoughts that begin with, “Back in MY day…”
Eighties music ruled.