Spelling Out Your Expectations for Gen Y Students

In preparation for a research article I’m writing, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Generation Y (a.k.a. the Millennials)—those born, roughly, between 1980 and 2001. But in spite of that reading, I’ve been pulled up short lately by several gaps in my Gen Y students’ understanding of what teachers expect from them in terms of their academic and professional behavior.

So I thought I’d share the “notes to self” I’ve made thus far about things to spell out to my students the next time I teach.

Before I get into these, though, I want to dispel any idea that this is a rant about the character flaws of Gen Y-ers. For Boomer types like me, it’s easy to interpret certain of their traits as such. But it’s very important to remember that these students were heavily shaped by the distinctive features of the times they grew up in: unprecedented dependence on and bombardment by digital media; the 9/11, Columbine, and Virginia Tech tragedies; economic affluence (now much diminished, of course); and childcentric Boomer parents who wanted better relationships with their kids than they had with their parents.

So Gen Y-ers are relatively cautious and unresourceful (except when it comes to learning certain technologies); they tend to be impatient and easily distracted (for them, multitasking is a way of life); they often don’t choose a nondigital medium when that would be the best medium to use; they assume that those in positions of authority will be willing to spend unlimited time helping them, will give them numerous “second chances,”  and will want to hear anything they want to say; and they want to know the “why” behind everything they are being asked to do.

In light of these traits and the experiences I’ve had recently, I’m planning to give the following explicit words of advice, when appropriate, to my classes:

–When you email me a draft to look over and I give you advice, (a) follow that advice or else explain why you’ve decided not to, and (b) thank me for my help (even if you’re disappointed that I didn’t like your paper any better than I did).

–When I send you an email that requires a response, (a) respond and (b) do so as soon as possible. Email is intended to be a relatively quick medium, and your reader will appreciate having issues resolved quickly so that he/she will have less to keep track of.

–The reason we are doing research for our report assignment is that this is what will happen on the job; in very few cases will someone do all the research for you and then just give it to you to write up. (This was in response to complaints from a few of my students this past quarter that because this was “a writing class,” they shouldn’t have to do research.)

–In order to do good research, you will have to gather more information than you will actually use in your paper. (To these students, gathering extra information seems like a crazy waste of time. You have to explain why gathering excess information is an essential part of finding the best information.)

–Try to solve your problems and answer your questions on your own before asking me for help. Busy employers and coworkers will appreciate such resourcefulness on your part.

–When I’m talking or we’re having a class discussion, do not “multitask”; turn off your cell phones and don’t use your computers except to take notes. And during oral presentations by your classmates or visitors to our class, there should be no “typing” sounds (unless I’ve allowed you to take notes).

–When I’m telling you something detailed and important (e.g., how I want the introduction to your report to be structured or pitfalls to watch out for in a certain assignment), take notes; do not just watch me talk, expecting that somehow, somewhere, you will find these tips later.

–Keep me posted any time you need to miss class or turn work in late. Do not make me email you asking where you were or where your assignnment is. (Here, I think I will get into a little discussion on “why your boss’s time is more important than yours.” They honestly do not know this.)

–Any time you do not understand why we are doing something or why I have the view I have, please ask for an explanation. I will be happy to give you one.

This is my list so far, and I’m sure the next crop of students will help me add items to the list. If you’ve got some to share, please do so.

Gen Y students are different, so trying to meet them where they are is not optional.  Yes, it’s shocking what they don’t know—but we have to move beyond that initial response. Make clear what you expect and why. Then, if they do not do what you’ve asked, show them that there are consequences to their behavior. That’s an important lesson for them to learn, too.

And by the way . . . don’t forget to enjoy them. They are funny, and they can help us winnow out old ways of doing things that may no longer be the best way.

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