A rural Georgia high school teacher says he’s been impressed with the passion and vision of  teenagers, citing the students of the Parkland, Fla., shown here, as an example.

Teacher to colleagues: Celebrate teens rather than denigrate them

Tyler Moon teaches at a small rural high school in Georgia. He is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice at the University of Georgia.

In this essay, Moon challenges critiques of teenagers as self-absorbed and unfamiliar with the real world and real struggles. Such comments have intensified as critics seek to malign the teens of Parkland leading the movement for new gun laws. 

Moon urges teachers to stand up for students and resist joining the chorus dismissing teens as lazy and vacuous. 

By Tyler Moon 

“What’s wrong with kids these days?” How often do we hear this question on talk shows, news shows, and in general conversation? It’s a question that’s been leveled at every generation. I’m especially bothered, however, when it comes from teachers. 

Being a teacher myself and having spent large amounts of time with these young people, I feel we should know better. The longer I teach, the more confused and angry I am when hearing criticisms aimed at teenagers. Throughout my time in the classroom, I have come to know some of the kindest, hardest-working, and most intelligent people I’ve ever met. To hear their worth and potential denigrated by the ones whose very job it is to recognize and nurture it is disheartening. 

It is time that educators stand up and speak out for our students. 

Teenagers are not without flaws. They are individuals fallible, at times quick to judgment, lazy, and dogmatic. They embody flaws evident in every age group, but they also have experiences and beliefs that matter. They feel love, pain, fury, and everything in between. They are inspiring. They dare to dream with limited knowledge of how to make their dreams a reality, while living in a world that privileges the status quo.

As someone who has the fortune of spending time with these young people, I see these qualities up close. I see students working long hours to support their families, coming to school tired, and still being able to keep a sense of humor and optimism. They are nothing short of amazing. 

This is nothing new. Young people in this country have always had a flair for the remarkable. 

Remember the thousands of young people who marched in Birmingham during the Children’s Crusade, willing to be beaten and arrested for civil rights. Think of Claudette Colvin, a young girl that refused to give up her seat weeks before Rosa Parks made a courageous “sit” of her own. 

Fast forward to the present and consider the Black Lives Matter protesters on the campus of the University of Missouri, refusing to yield until equity is advanced on their campus. Observe the “Never Again” movement initiated by the extraordinary students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who have done more to move the needle on gun control through their speeches and marches than has been accomplished by any other person or group in recent decades. 

These examples show the ability of our nation’s youth to achieve positive sweeping change; however, this alone is not where we find their exceptional nature. Their impressiveness extends to their “everydayness” -- their survival in a world that seemingly resents them being here. 

The young woman who excels in three Advanced Placement classes while working 30 hours a week, the pregnant student who is committed to attending school in spite of the stigma that others insist on placing on her, or the vast majority of my students who have to contend daily with the immediate devaluing of their opinion due to their age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. I reiterate, these people are phenomenal and with all of the other obstacles they face, their humanity should not be diminished by the adults with which they are forced to spend most of their day. 

I could give hundreds of examples, some seemingly commonplace and mundane, others so tragic they are difficult to comprehend, but all are remarkable. They are all individuals trying fight for their space in this world. They attempt to make their voices heard over the white noise of those in power telling them that they have nothing to say. I urge teachers to stop this type of discourse and instead empower these students 

I am fortunate to work in a place where most teachers get to know their students and support them in any way they can. If you are a teacher and are not as fortunate, remind your colleagues, that as people who spend so much time with these young people, they should make sure they are not part of the problem, that they are not the ones tearing these wonderful individuals down. 

Teachers, if you haven’t already, get to know your students. I promise you, you will be amazed. But if you are among those who find it convenient to blame these kids for the problems in our society or in your classroom, I urge you to find a job more firmly planted in the “real world.” 

I, for one, want to stay with the dreamers.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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