One of my favorite possessions is my mom’s vintage, five-pronged chalk-line maker that she used to line the chalkboard with when she was a teacher. My mom is on the cusp of the “Greatest Generation” and definitely fits the profile. She and my immigrant father raised nine children. When the baby of the family was 10 years old, my mom went back to work as a Chicago Public School teacher in the late 1970s. She taught for 20 years total.
There is much emphasis on generations working together in the business world, especially in the area of marketing. Marketers want to know what makes each generation tick so they will know how to sell their products. Business leaders want to know how to guide what can be as many as five generations working together in the same company.
There is not much written in the world of education in regard to multi-generational staff working together for the common goal of educating the next generation of learners.
I am of the baby boomer generation. My oldest is a Millennial or Generation Y, and my youngest two belong to Generation Z. My parents’ generation could be dubbed the radio generation. I remember my dad sitting at the kitchen counter every Saturday morning, tuning in to “Irish Hour.” My generation is the TV/MTV generation. People from Gen X are digital natives or the Internet Generation. My youngest two, from Gen Z, pretty much came out of the womb with Game Boys and cell phones in their hands.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working at a school whose teaching staff consisted almost entirely of digital natives and Millennials. I remember the first teachers’ meeting before the students would arrive to begin the school year. Our principal said, “Everyone go around and tell your summer jam.”
I panicked. “Jam? What’s that? Should I say ‘strawberry,’ or would ‘marmalade’ make a better first impression?”
Next, we had to take a selfie. Okay, I knew what that was, but then she said to send it to her phone! How do you “send” a selfie, and where is my Polaroid camera?
So much synergy and amazing teaching happen when schools recognize the value each generation brings. There is so much baby boomers can learn from our tech-savvy colleagues as we seek to stay current with best practices in blended learning and data-based decision making. I love the energy and passion these young teachers bring, and if it weren’t for what I learn from my present-day, tech-savvy Gen X colleagues, I truly could not succeed at my job.
For example, two weeks ago I was on the road somewhere between Atlanta, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama. I pulled off the interstate into a Wendy’s to get free Wi-Fi so I could join my team for our scheduled online meeting. My phone was nearly dead, as I had used it as a GPS so I could get less lost as I drove to find the schools I was visiting. My team, comprised mostly of caring and highly competent Gen Xers, had just set essential agreements for our meetings, one of which was to log in early so we would start on time. I could not get logged in! Stacy, a helpful Gen X colleague, called on my nearly powerless phone to walk me through how to connect to the meeting through my phone instead of the Internet! “What?! My phone is nearly dead. My whole team was waiting on me!”
A gentleman from the Greatest Generation watched in astonishment as I turned into the Incredible Hulk, lifting the Wendy’s booth I had been sitting in, determined that there would, in fact, be an outlet behind it so I could plug in and join the meeting. Yes, there was! I was relieved, and so was the Greatest Generation man—relieved I was not sitting by him.
We baby boomers greatly appreciate when our Gen X colleagues patiently teach us how to navigate the ever-changing digital world. We love hearing about your dating lives, engagements, and wedding plans. We love to see pictures of your adorable children as they grow up. We live vicariously through your weekend and vacation endeavors—well, maybe not all of them. Some of you are the same age as our own children, and we see them in you.
Likewise, baby boomer educators bring valuable life and teaching experiences to the table. We may have opted out a few years to raise our families. We may not have as many degrees as you because we were working so our children could get their degrees. We are trying to stay focused and give 100 percent of our attention to our students, all the while worrying about taking care of our parents and our teen/adult children and grandchildren. But we have a lot to offer that is hidden beneath our wrinkles, belly fat, and chin hair. Just as you remind us of our children, we may remind you of your parents. This may make it hard for you to consider that you could learn something from us.
Sir Edmund Hillary was a humble man and was also the first man to step foot atop Mt. Everest. Years later, during a return visit to the Himalayas, some tourist recognized him and asked for a picture. They gave Hillary an ice pick to hold for the shot. A young climber happened to pass by as they were setting up the shot. Not recognizing Sir Edmund, he approached him and said, “Excuse me, that’s not how you hold an ice pick. Let me show you.” Sir Edmund let him adjust the pick, thanked him, and went on with the photograph.
We baby boomer educators may look clumsy as we learn to hold new tools, but our tool belt is full. We would love to share our wisdom, gained through years of failures and successes, in and out of the classroom, with you, our younger colleagues.
Lynn Unsworth says it best in her PowerPoint “Four Generations Working Together:”
“The most successful people are the true ‘Gen Mixers’ who bring to work every day their enthusiasm, flexibility and voracious desire to learn.”
Our students, whom we all are equally passionate about, will benefit immensely as we utilize each of our strengths and mitigate all of our weaknesses. Gen Mixing is my new jam.