Writing Away the Generation Gap in the Classroom (Amy)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . .it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. . .in short, the period was so far like the present period . . .”  ~Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities)


The winter of 2000-2001 remains in my mind’s eye with sharp clarity.  I felt confident that my studies at Northern Michigan University had prepared me for student teaching.  Why then were my nerves a jagged mess of anxiety and question marks?  I imagine that Heather felt the same way. Tom Hyslop, our university supervisor had given us many tools for success.  He reminded us how we should always be kind to the secretary because she/he ran the school and to keep positive notes from students/parents in a box to pull out when we felt discouraged.  He promised us that student teaching would help us rediscover teenage angst and the healing properties of evening naps.  He was right. We soon found that teaching was a labor of love that involved immeasurable amounts of frustration with equal (sometimes more, sometimes less) parts of joy.

On the eve of my 30th birthday, I remember being concerned that I would not be able to reach my students because of the obvious generation gap.  Scouring my bookshelves I noticed that most of the authors I read were female and I was filled with worry that I would not be able to connect with my males students. Male authors began to fill my reading list. The clearance racks helped me purchase a professional wardrobe and even my dreams in bed were structured around Bloom’s Taxonomy and Multiple Intelligence Theory.

Romanticized memories of my own high school experience came flooding back. I was acutely aware of how a certain song on the radio could instantly transport me to another time and place.  It sounds rather silly now, but to prepare myself for my student teaching experience I purchased a CD that would help me travel down memory lane.  Yes, my guilty pleasure was and still is Rick Springfield.  The CD worked like a charm. While Rick was belting out choruses of You Better Love SomebodyJessie’s Girl…and Affair of the Heart…I time-traveled to the hallways of Forest Park High School. It was 1986 again and I was in the 9th grade.  My best friend Sherry and I quoted lines from Pretty in Pink and concocted a plan to convince my mom she had to drive us to Iron River the coming weekend. My obsessions were learning about Australia, shopping for clothes and writing poems and stories. I had an awkward crush on a senior named Greg and I even sent him a Valentine and worked up the courage (thanks to my friend Debbie) to call him. His mother answered the phone and I did not hang up.  (Of course, this was before the age of texting and Facebook…)

Heather and I have shared stories of our young years and I often wonder if we ever crossed paths at a sporting event or while shopping at Maurices.  Thankfully, our roads eventually converged and we had the opportunity to share a student teaching seminar and ended up teaching right across the hall from each other.  Our conversations often explore the generation gap that we experience with our students.  We often joke about how we would not survive without Urban Dictionary to help decipher the code our students speak. On a serious note, we both believe that this gap can be bridged by sharing our stories. 

A few years into my teaching I stumbled upon a piece of writing that I composed in 1993. I penned an editorial about my generation being dubbed the ME Generation and the negative connotation that this title carried. I was 22 years old and I had just received my Bachelor’s Degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The weekly paper in my hometown, Crystal Falls, published the piece as well as a neighboring town called L’Anse.  When I discovered the essay after all those years I knew that I had to share it with my students. I knew they would be able to identify with my rant.

Every year I share the editorial with my 9th graders and their response has been positive.  I always enjoy their reaction to the last few paragraphs where many of my “predictions” about the future have eerily come true. We then steal away to the computer lab and I ask them to then write a piece about their generation.  The responses are often bold and impassioned.

One of the student essays that took my breath away was written by Kara Wixtrom. She is now a junior and I was delighted to see her name on my creative writing class roster this year. Kara gave me an incredible gift on the first day of school when she disclosed that I had helped her unearth her love of writing when she was a freshman. This summer she attended a creative writing camp at Michigan State University’s 4-H Exploration Days.  I am impressed with Kara’s maturity and her articulate attention to detail.  I also must add that I have noticed that Kara can ALWAYS be found with a book in hand.  Kara granted me the permission to reprint her editorial here along with mine.  I am thrilled that I can help pass on my love-of-writing torch to Kara and I know she will make amazing discoveries on her journey.

Heather and I are celebrating our 10th year in the classroom, which ultimately means that the generation gap between us and our students is getting larger.  We must remember what it was like to be a teenager and to share our stories.  Writing is a tool that crosses the generational divide, helps us make connections, and carries our messages into tomorrow. 

 Confessions from the ‘ME Generation’ ~ Amy Armstrong

Published in The Diamond Drill; Crystal Falls, Michigan

November 24, 1993

                I have a confession to make. I rode the bus to school. As hard as I tried to walk the ten miles to school in six feet of snow, my mother would not let me.  There were always piles of presents waiting for me under the Christmas tree, I do not remember what life was like before the microwave, and at college computer often assisted with my homework.

                I am 22 years old and am said to belong to the whiny ME Generation.

                Yes, I want it all!  I want my piece of the “American Dream”.  My version of the house (give or take the white picket fence), complete with the 2.5 kids, the shiny car in the drive and the dog or cat (hmmmmmmm, I wonder which is more politically correct?).

                In all my 90’s grandeur I may demand to be called Ms. and if I marry I might hyphenate my name.  I do recognize the past generations that have fought for a gender neutral society.  However, I am not naïve. The fight for equality is not over. My generation and gender still have a long way to go.  Unfortunately, the woman’s movement has been forced to replace burning bras with a can of mace.

                My life has been considerably easier than the generations before me.  Due to science my generation may life longer, if we are not eaten alive by hate or choked out by pollution.

                I did not live through the World Wars or The Depression. Yet, I am afraid to walk on certain streets during the day and night; I must be street smart and careful about how I carry my purse in the city.  I must be politically correct about what I do and say, I must worry about saving the planet, be racially harmonious, and gender neutral.

                To all who believe the ME Generation has had it far too easy, leave through a copy of Newsweek and look what we have to look forward to.  Pay careful attention to all of the 90’s chaos and glory…The pitiful crack babies, the growing number of homeless and unemployed, soup kitchens, child abuse, battered wives, the plight of the migrant worker, the overwhelming and terrifying AIDS explosion, nuclear and toxic waste, global warming, the ozone hole, flood, fire, famine, the faltering economy, and urban war zone.  Doesn’t the spoiled ME Generation have a wonderful inheritance?

                Children growing up in the 90’s must be unfairly robbed of their innocence. They must be taught sex education that is so graphic even adults blush. Yet, pregnancy is no longer such a dire concern.  AIDS is life or death. We have to paint for children the worse of scenarios for their protection. We need to confront them with horrific presence of molestation, gang violence, AIDS and drugs.

                My father is a Vietnam veteran, and I know my generation will never be able to comprehend the horrors he witnessed or the politics that brought him there (I doubt that his generation truly even understands).  My generation does not have anything comparable to Vietnam. Yet, we continue to fight in the confused concrete jungles of our cities.  Vietnam?  No. But it is a type of civil war, one of class, unrest and hate.

                My parents have sacrificed a great deal so that I could have everything. I am not blaming them for making me part of the ME Generation, I am thanking them.  It was what their parents did for them and what I hope to do for my children. My parents have always taught me that you should give your children everything you had, plus one step more. Mom and Dad, I am so very grateful, and now I have my work cut out for me.

                My generation is dubbed as selfish and lazy. Computers often do our work for us, but we did not initially create them. My generation may have been afforded many luxuries that past generations may have not, but that is the course of technology and time. I refuse to feel guilty for things I have been given, but I am thankful. I am profoundly grateful for the privilege of an education, but I am not guilty. I am saddened that generations before me did not have the same chance as I had.  ALL generations need to quit crying “victim” and take back their lives!

                Someday, if I do have children, they will think it outrageous that I actually used books for research papers (books will be replaced by computer screens), they will think it a scream that my first video game was Pac-Man (primitive to their virtual reality games), and they will not be able to believe that I actually rented videos from the store (vs their 500 channel universe with inter-activity and “pay per view” movies).  Someday, when my children are teenagers, with the accusations of young people today sharp on my tongue, I’ll have to sit back and smile; remembering what it was life to full of youthful promise, all cocky, insolent, and so full of dreams.

                Yet, I am from the ME Generation.  Please do not confuse me with the generations before me. I may listen to their music and borrow from their clothes – but I do add a style that is all my own. Do not forget, there is one thing that I do take credit for; I have hope in my generation.

A Millennial Generation ~ Kara Wixtrom

Gwinn High School: 9th Grade English

May 18, 2009

                Every Sunday, my family goes to church. Passing through Marquette there are as many cars on the highway on Sunday at noon as there are on Friday at rush hour. My family is pretty big: nine people. We frequently have to stop at the grocery store or at Michael’s to get poster board, and so on. Up until this year, that was okay. Unfortunately, one Sunday this year, I heard an awful riddle: “Who do we worship? Jesus or Wal-Mart?” (Even as I type this, the computer recognizes the familiar spelling of the convenience store, when it probably should be underlined in squiggly red.) It’s out of hand when you see the parking lot at the well-known store filled to the brim on a Sunday. What happened to Sunday being a day of rest?

                Now I’m not saying that there’s anything specifically wrong with Wal-Mart, because I’ll admit that I do go there every now and then.  Who hasn’t been there?  Cheap stuff from foreign nations is much more convenient than home-made things, right? However, Wal-Mart is not the point of my argument. What I’m trying to get at is that we’re spending more time in our cars driving, and more time shrugging our way through the aisles of stores (Have you ever noticed that no one ever smiles when they’re in Wal-Mart? Watch carefully next time you’re in there), and less time doing things that we should be doing; exercise, taking care of ourselves and others, and being more observant.

                The word ‘millennial’ comes from the mid-seventeenth century modern Latin words mille, meaning thousand, and annus, meaning year. The definition is: an imagined utopian period of joy, peace, and justice, especially one created through revolution. Roughly translated, that means the ideal period in time where everything is perfect. Obviously, that’s not exactly what’s happening these days. We might not have started the fire (thanks, Billy Joel), but we’re trying to fight it.  Some of us are, anyway.

                People, however, are lazy and expect everything to be handed to them.  It’s been pointed out before, I know, the indolent ways of every generation. But is that really what we should be noticing? Is it normal to only recognize the bad things? Are people naturally pessimistic? No, I don’t think so. I think that generally, we tend to notice the bad things because they’re different from the little good things that happen. We do notice the good things, sometimes, but they are usually so insignificant that we skip right over them – ignoring the obvious. For example, if this will help, the front page of the newspaper. Okay, so there was a fundraiser for the nursing home… Ooh! There was also a murder down in Tennessee, that’s interesting! And we read that article instead.

                Time to start caring more about the little things, don’t you think?

                To tie this all back to the thesis of this editorial, (thank you to Disney’s movie Wall-E for giving me this idea. Great satire on Wal-Mart; watch it if you’ve never see it) you can’t turn your life over to ignorance and idleness and let the power of the bright lights and cheap prices hypnotize you.  We’ve got to work for what we want. The only person you’re allowed to rely on is yourself, and that’s the only way we’re going to fulfill this dream of a “Millennial Generation.”

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