Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Meaning of Mean: Part One

The word on the street is that a well-known piano teacher is mean. She is highly respected among her peers and has been honored at the state level for a thorough approach to developing young pianists. She is stunned at this new take on her reputation.

Another experienced teacher got back her piano class evaluations. Guess what? She is also mean.

Welcome to teaching toward high expectations with the current generation of students. They are not less able, less skillful, or less intelligent than past generations. They can learn, they can. But they want it on their terms, and most of them have been more likely to call shots in other arenas of their lives than former generations.

Their terms are less about rigidity and more about making learning entertaining. If requirements aren't couched in generally pleasant terms, they just might be labeled as mean. And I didn't make this up. Google "teaching millennials" for a list of articles on this topic.

But let's not be too hard on them. They are used to having the world at their fingertips on digital technology. When they get bored, they switch to another source, and something else more engaging flashes in front of their eyes. Their information comes in bursts on short videos on YouTube or posts on social media platforms. Quite honestly, experts who study this phenomenon cannot predict whether the inability to focus for longer periods of time is temporary or permanent.

Learning is also a lot about hearing information for them rather than reading information. Ear buds come with their phones. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed that current piano students don't like to read music but will enjoy picking out tunes instead. This is the opposite of how I learned to play, so I experience this phenomenon with at least a little envy.

They also like to be engaged in the process, which is something I warm up to immediately, rather than being talked at by someone in authority. My biggest challenges are with students who are reticent and reluctant to answer even the simplest questions. A student that comes in with ideas is a delight, as long as the ideas lead to attainable goals.

Millennials also want to know why they are learning what they are learning. They are less willing than my generation to learn because "I said so." Finding a connection to present and future goals is important.

The other far less pleasant aspect is the prevalence of anxiety and depression. I'm no social psychologist, leaving me without a useful explanation for this trend now being addressed in public schools and secondary institutions. And when parents choose not to share this information about their children, the teacher is going to proceed as though nothing is out of the ordinary, possibly adding to their distress unintentionally. How you approach this is up to your relationships.

For tips on working with millennials, read The Meaning of Mean:Part Two.

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