Tag Archives: Generation Z

Generation Z: Some Basic Information

Several months ago, I was surprised to hear the term ‘Gen Z’. I had been bombarded with the term Millennials for so long that I didn’t realize that another generation had snuck up on us. In fact, they were so close that they were actually sitting in my classroom. Yes, the first Gen Zers have actually already started attending college and university, and no one even announced their arrival!

Interestingly, even these students were not really aware of the term Generation Z. I asked a couple of my classes. Few of them had heard the term. No one really knew what it meant.

I started reading up on them, and there’s a fair amount of information out there. I’m going to do a series of blog posts explaining who they are, what their distinguishing characteristics are, how they are different from the ever-present Millennials, and what we (the teachers) need to know about them so as to better serve them. Yes, I said serve. That’s our job. (It’s a good thing.)

Who Are They?

Generation Z was born after 1996. However, when you look up dates, you find all sorts of variances out there. There’s no official Generation Information Center out there, but 1996 is a good beginning date. This group includes everyone born up to 2014. Most of this generation either have only the vaguest recollection of 9-11 or they don’t remember it at all, i.e. 9-11 is history, which I find fascinating.

Generation Z also takes a lot of the progress that most of us can actually remember people fighting for (like the first Black president, gay marriage rights, transgender folks, high powered women politicians) for granted. It’s always been the norm for them. It doesn’t seem special or odd. This makes them more open to ideas that rankle some older folks. (See the above list.)

Digital Natives

Here’s a term that’s bandied around a lot: Digital Natives. Of course Millennials are also digital natives. What does that mean? It means that they were given a tablet or a phone to play with to occupy them when they were babies or toddlers. It means that phones and tablets are something they expect. They’ve always been there. They didn’t have to learn it as an adult like most of us did. They learned it like kids learn things, by experimenting and playing with it. This also means that they approach technology in a more intuitive manner than, say, I do.

The fact that they are more comfortable with technology also means that they expect it to be there at all times. Don’t know something? Pick up your phone and look it up. Most of us (Gen X and Baby Boomers) know that as well, but we remember having to go to a book to look it up, or a library (remember those?) or just wondering about until we ran across someone who knew.

My point here is that there’s a connection between them and their phone. It’s their door to the world. When we ask them to put their phones away, we need to understand what that means to them.

On the other hand, we should understand that the phone is an amazing tool that we could use in class. We could use their connection to this device to our advantage! This would, of course, mean that we would need to learn how to do that, but learning is fun, right?

There is so much to learn about these students. I feel fortunate to have them in my class. We are standing on the edge of the future. And they are affecting us much more than we realize. Stay tuned!



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We Offer Daily Digital Detoxes

I just read the line “Digital Detox as the new therapy” and I smiled. It was partially because I know I could use one, but I can see my students desperately needing one as well.

Several years ago, I worked at a school here in the Netherlands where the average age of the student was 16-19. At some point, the administration decided (briefly) that before class each day, the teachers would take a clear plastic box and have the students drop their phone in the box. They could pick them up after class.

Oy! The whining.

“The box will be right here in plain sight throughout class,” I pointed to the table in the front of the room. You’d have thought I’d told them they would get it back in a week.

One girl told me that she didn’t have her phone with her. That was laughable.

I only did the box once more. It took too much time. I couldn’t take the drama.

Students have a connection to their phones that most of us don’t because we can remember a time when we didn’t have a phone. I can remember getting home to check the answering machine. (I can also remember when we didn’t have an answering machine.) I can remember waiting to get home to log on to a dial up connection to check my email. I can remember searching for a pay phone on the streets of New York so I could make a call. These kids don’t have those memories.

They are always plugged in, always connected. It’s part of them being Generation Z. They wait for that buzz or ping and react like…dare I say it…Pavlov’s dog. Maybe the drool is figurative.

The idea of having a student do a digital detox feels like the stuff of TV movies. Crying, denial, kicking and cursing followed by giving in and connecting with nature and with other people sans digital device.

However, I like to think of my classes as digital detoxes. I tell them that I am putting my phone on silent and in my bag. (See? I’m modeling how to do it.) And then I tell them that at some point during the class, I’ll get an email or an instant message and I tell them how excited I will be when I get it. I tell them that I look forward to waiting and I look forward to reading the messages. Nothing will happen in the next two hours that any of us will need to know about immediately. (And if you’re waiting for news about a sick relative or friend, of course you can keep the phone handy.)

It’s good to be disconnected from your phone and from the digital world for a bit. Be present. Be in the now. Pay attention to what is going on in class.

For most of our students, any time away from the phone seems like an eternity. They need these small, digital detoxes. I have to think it’s good for them.

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Work Drag

“We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”


For years I’ve referred to the clothes I wear to work as my work drag. I’m not a drag queen, as RuPaul is. I’m a teacher. And I will say that I feel like RuPaul is using a more liberal definition of the word ‘drag,’ which doesn’t necessarily mean “dressing in clothing conventionally worn by the opposite sex.” It’s just dressing in clothes that transform us into a certain character. Thus, there are days when I feel like I’m getting into a costume in which I will perform the role of ‘Teacher’ (a male teacher).

I have always been from the school of Albert Einstein in terms of work clothes. I don’t wear the same gray suit every day, but I want to spend as little time and thought as I can making the decision about what to wear. As stated in this article from LinkedIn, many successful individuals wear the same amount every day. So maybe I come from a sister school. I have a more modified approach. Perhaps it comes from having spent so many years waiting tables. I like a uniform. It helps me remember that I’m performing a certain task.

My work outfit for years has been casual-ish pants (a standard, gently worn pair of jeans – blue, khaki or gray), a shirt (always ironed) and a cardigan sweater (although I’m moving away from that). My shoes are generally black, generally polished. It’s not the same as wearing the exact same gray T-shirt (hello, Mark Zuckerberg) or all black (hello, New York City circa 1995), but I don’t have to think about a shirt-tie combo or whether I’ll wear a suit.

Granted, I’m a man. Dressing for work is easier for men (in general). Women have so many more options. Dress, pants or skirt? Sweater or blouse? Along with all of that, there is the question of fit. How tight is too tight? How loose should it be before I look frumpy? Then there’s hair and make-up.

I love this RuPaul quote (partially because my friends were using it long before it became a song) because when each of gets us dressed every day, we really are doing something to influence the way people look at us. And some of those people for teachers are students.

If I were to show up in worn out jeans and a T-shirt with an unshaven face, it would give my students a certain impression: maybe that I’m having a rough time or maybe that I don’t care. But what effect does that have on my ability to inspire them or to motivate them?

Similarly, if I were to arrive in a suit and tie, it would give my students a certain impression. It might say that I was serious, but it might be a level of serious that I am not willing or able to live up to. And again, what effect does that have on my ability to inspire or motivate them?

I wear what I wear because I want to be taken seriously, but I know that being too formal with my students (both because they are Generation Z and because they are Dutch) wouldn’t work. I want to be the adult in the room, but I want to be somewhat relatable. (I also dress for comfort, and I like being consistent.)

The way we dress is a very personal thing. I would never comment on your work drag unless asked (and if you do, I always have an opinion), but I would encourage you to think about how you dress for work and how it works into the overall image you are trying to project.

What do you wear to work?

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The Power of I Don’t Know

As a teacher, it feels like I am often expected to have all of the answers. To everything. In every aspect of my life. I misspelled recently something and the response I got from someone was, “But you’re an English teacher!”

Yes. I am. But my name is not Merriam Webster.

This expectation certainly extends to the classroom, but I try to quash that as soon as I can, with a story if possible. I regularly tell my students that I always have the answers to the handout I’ve given them right in front of me. One of my favorite stories comes from my first year of teaching.

I was trying to make a point to a class of high school students. (No idea what the point was, not a part of the story.) I wrote on the board: 120 ÷ 30 =. (I actually did it with the Long Division Symbol used in English speaking countries.) Then I stood there and stared at it. I had no idea how I would even begin to proceed to solve that problem.

In class, I turn to them and say, “Before you say it, I know the answer is 4. However, that convinced me that I am not good at standing up here and thinking.” Yes, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but I think that sort of slightly self-deprecating humor works with this audience.

There are colleagues I’ve worked who seemed to think that the place of power in their classroom depends on them having all the answers. They were the one who was always right. They were the last word.

My research into Generation Z tells me that they appreciate authenticity. And me being not perfect and telling them that I don’t have all of the answers is part of me being coming from a place of authenticity. If you have all the answers, that is probably your place of authenticity.

(However, I will warn you that if they find out that you don’t have all of the answers, you’re sunk.

Not having all the answers, telling them that I don’t know something, also gives me the opportunity to ask questions. I’ve asked about YouTube personalities, pop stars, catch phrases, TV shows, festivals and other topics that are not part of my life experience. I’ve gotten students to open up about school-specific topics, things they like about what they are studying, things they don’t, teachers who they find tedious or difficult. (This is a touchy subject and I generally ask about behaviors rather than specific colleagues. And I’ll always steer it back to the behaviors once the teacher’s identity has been revealed. Also, I would never tell a colleague what student said. That is not my pot to stir.)

Telling students that I don’t know something has been one way to open a door to dialogue, which is part of having a good relationship with my students. I’m still the one in control of the classroom. I’m still the one in charge, but they get to be the expert for a bit, and it seems to work.



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