Colleagues, there is a dangerous threat roaming our campus as we speak. They are sitting in our classrooms, standing in line at our restaurants, and hanging out in our movie theaters. Each time we attend a VT football game, we are putting ourselves at their mercy. But we must be brave and call out this threat by name. They are… the youths.
I couldn’t help returning to our discussion from two weeks ago when thinking about my blog post for this week. Our conversation about the modern generation of students was peppered with stereotypes: millennials might be outreach-oriented, digitally savvy and politically correct, or they might be self-absorbed, out of touch with reality and overly sensitive. Someone brought up the excellent point that many people in GRAD 5114 would also be included in the millennium generation. For a long time, I made excuses as to why I belonged in a separate category; I could remember dial-up and Wall Street-sized cell phones, I still played outside a lot as a child, I learned cursive in elementary school. But now, perhaps because of all the unfortunate accusations being lobbed at the younger generation in the current political season, I’ve taken a defensive pride in the label.
Is it possible that our millennial students succumb to stereotype threat? For example, if students are bombarded with the message that they are lazy and entitled, could this negatively affect their school performance? Could it be that students who constantly hear that they are obsessed with social media sometimes have difficulty working on their in-person social skills? Might teachers be inadvertently hampering their progress by not acknowledging and fighting back against these stereotypes in the classroom? Furthermore–and this is a sinister prospect–might some members of the older generation be using these stereotypes to prevent the next generation from overtaking their roles?
So, how could teachers work to combat millennial stereotype threat in their courses? Claude Steele provides some good guidelines that are worth repeating here. One approach is to use positive feedback to motivate students, particularly when you make it possible for them to recognize and praise their own accomplishments. Although you run the risk of feeding into the oft-cited phenomenon of youth entitlement, you could also help these students notice when their hard work has produced quality results. Another approach is to take an incremental perspective and emphasize that students can achieve better performance in your class with increased effort. Be willing to work with students using language they can understand, and set yourself up as being approachable from the get-go so that they feel comfortable disclosing their struggles; this will remove some of the unnecessary professorial “mystique” (and possible generation gap; not everyone in our course would say they are a millennial) and help them see that you are willing to guide them as they work to meet your challenges. Finally, it can be helpful to characterize diversity as a classroom enhancement rather than a hindrance. Show your students that inclusion of their perspectives is a valued part of class discussion, and be willing to modify your strategies to make the subject more accessible for them. Reading a few Tweets won’t kill you, and it might spark their inspiration. Don’t be that teacher who refuses to “keep up with the times” out of laziness or spite.
But, you know… don’t be Bree Van de Kamp, either.