I admit, I haven’t watched the TV show Survivor for years, but I’m intrigued by this season’s version, Millennials v. Gen X, as I occasionally feel that very conflict playing itself out in my classroom.
There comes a time every fall semester, usually around the end of September, when the generational differences between me and my current crop of 1L’s become evident. It usually coincides with the due date of their first memorandum and the expectations crystalize in students’ brains. Their questions typically begin as “I have a question about citation” and end as “you really expect us to do this?” with an air of incredulity. While I may remember my law school experience somewhat hazily at this point, I do know that if I had a question about something which was covered in class, I assumed that I had missed the information, not that my professor had either failed to convey it or had unreasonable expectations. I try to convey that it’s not me who expects something unrealistic from them, but, rather, that I am preparing them to meet the expectations of cadre of Gen X or even more seasoned attorneys who will have high expectations of their interns and associates.
Many experts have identified areas where the generations differ. Here are just a few. Gen X’ers want independence and to be given time to grapple with issues on their own, they respect authority, and do not like to be overly supervised. On the other hand Millennials crave constant communication and mostly positive feedback, do not believe that those in authority deserve respect due to rank alone, and they want supervision to the point that they collaborate with supervisors rather than producing something on their own in the first place. The conflicts are apparent. Yes, these are generalizations, but I see these conflicts play out in the classroom and anecdotally when those students first experience workplace expectations and report back to me.
Each generation has positive and less positive attributes (even my use of the term “less positive” is a nod to the Millennial to whom my comments usually go, and who would be unreasonably upset by reading that there was anything “negative” in their work). It has helped me to understand and appreciate that certain characteristics I may have viewed as laziness or lack of initiative are not individual characteristics, but simply a different mental approach to work and how it is produced. I have tried to adopt some of the positive attributes they bring to the classroom, such as embracing technology, engaging in more group work, and providing more opportunities for ungraded assessment. By doing so, I let go of a characteristic of my generation: reluctance to change.
Just as sure as the fall brings the conflict, I can also say that by the spring semester and beyond, the conflict subsides and we co-exist. Everyone survives, and my students generally report being very well prepared for their work. Unfortunately, though, none of us wins a million dollars!
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