This is a guest post written by Alicia Holland.
While my first semester of student teaching was fairly successful, I feel nervous for Round 2 this coming fall. This past spring I was placed at a middle school, and this fall, I’ll be working with high school seniors.
Yes, I’m anxious about making sure they respect me as an authority figure, but more than that, I’m worried that I will not feel like an authority figure myself. I’m twenty-four, just seven years older than they are. I don’t quite feel like a “real adult” yet, and I definitely have some stereotypically millennial vices, especially when it comes to internet usage. I’ve spent more hours than I would care to admit scrolling through my Facebook feed, clicking on loads and loads of links my friends and acquaintances have posted. I’ll get halfway through a personality quiz and then bounce to an article on pop culture, then skip over to a lifestyle website. When nothing there grabs my attention, I check whether my favorite cooking sites have any new recipes, then decide to watch a Ted Talk instead—right after I text a friend and check the latest election polls.
By no means am I opposed to the Internet, but web sessions like that inevitably lead to a case of hamster-brain. If I haven’t had a train of thought that lasted more than two minutes in the past hour, I have nothing to reflect on and no will to concentrate on anything else. Anecdotal evidence tells me this is pretty common behavior among people in my age bracket, and it takes away from both the time we spend working and the time we spend truly enjoying ourselves. For the past year or so, I’ve been mindful of using my Internet time more wisely.
This aspect of my emerging adulthood helped me connect with my eighth-graders last year. One student, for instance, told me she never got enough sleep because she would just keep clicking on video after video. I could honestly say I’d been caught in the same YouTube spiral, and I could credibly make the case that it’s worth it to ban yourself from watching after a certain hour.
Another student expressed mixed feeling about Buzzfeed. I said I agreed that it could be fun, but I also said how much happier I was once I’d installed an extension that kicks me off of clickbait sites after a certain number of minutes. Whether either of those students actually changed any habits after talking to me, I don’t know. But I do think these conversations at least made changing their habits seem like a viable option—and knowing I might possibly have some influence on them doubled my motivation to develop good Internet habits, which in turn made me feel more adult.
In the end, my millennial habits helped me connect with my students, and that connection in turn motivated me to be and to feel more authoritative. I’m still nervous about teaching seniors, but if the smallish age gap between me and my eighth graders spawned this kind of positive cycle, I’m hopeful that the small age gap between me and my twelfth graders will do the same thing.
Then again, what do I know? I’m only twenty-four.
Alicia Holland is studying for a master’s degree in the teaching of English at Teachers College, Columbia University. A native New Yorker, she is a proud alum of the Bronx High School of Science, Binghamton University, and City Year New York.