The Teacher of the Generation Z
A problem discussed more often nowadays is the one of the characteristics of the generations, given the decreased interest of the student for the school as an institution itself and for formal educational act it brings with itself. This paper aims to bring an answer to the questions why students are preoccupied reading more from a tablet and less from the board, why their attention is very little focused and dissipates in small things compared to us, educators and what we can do as teachers. In the paper there are presented the characteristics of teachers and students from the generations perspectives. This study can help professors to understand the needs of the young generation and how to deal with this new model of students. Teaching the Generation Z will be a big challenge for the future because this will required more competences to the professors, not only related their teaching discipline, but especially to their ability to handle with technology and to use the technology at the expert level.
Besides teaching simple information, the job of a teacher is to master, to be able to motivate, to harmonize, to inspire, to encourage and this list goes on. But which of these roles are different to those of professor 5 or 10 years or even 100 years ago? A future teacher has to go through courses of the psycho-pedagogical module, a complete and compact route, which knows what abilities a teacher has to have at the graduation of it. We are all concerned to train these skills to ensure a good start in the teaching career paths. Yet, sociological studies talk about an abandonment of the teaching profession within the first 5 years of activity. A studio undertaken by the Federation of Trade Unions in Education (FSLI) in Romania showed in 2011 that over 40% of teachers want to leave the education system. And the situation is the same in Europe and even worldwide. The reasons behind these decisions are primarily because of the payment. But then comes a big "uf" from the side of the teachers, namely the difficult "cohabitation" with these young generations of pupils, increasingly volatile and little understood by teachers. Should this reality be without any solution? Who is to blame for this helplessness of the education system to assure harmony between teacher and the educated ones and what should we be careful about, while training the future generations of teachers? The answer to this questions we can find by analyzing student and teacher in the same way, through the light of the characteristics of the generation. As pointed out by Yolanda Griffiths (2012), is the first time in human history when four different generations interact in classes.
Theoretical Foundation and Related Literature
Karie Willyers (2010) presented the future of the labor force by the year of 2020. She talks about
five different generations working side by side in the labor market and so, as well in schools.
In order to define the terms clearly, we first have to define the term "generation". According to
Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ”generation means a body of living beings constituting a single step in
the line of descent from an ancestor, or ”a group of individuals born and living contemporaneously ”
and ” a group of individuals having contemporaneously a status (as that of students in a school) which
each one holds only for a limited period”. Coming to school space, theorists talk about the term "cohort
generation". A cohort generation is a group of persons born during a limited span of years, who shared a
common and distinct social character, shaped by their shared experiences through time (Mannheim
1952; Marias 1970). The Romanian version of it (Explanatory Dictionary of the Romanian Language)
defines the term of a "generation" in a similar way: "all individuals in a community, living together,
being about the same age."
The generations theory involves identifying the characteristics of an individual, that makes it
representative for a certain group or a certain generation (Strauss, and Howe 1991). It involves
identifying common elements, as well as those that differentiate them.
Researchers who talked about the characteristics of the generation cohorts - Ryder 1965, Strauss
and Howe, 1991 (as cited in Griffiths 2012) agreed on their classification in 5 generations, namely GI
Generation / The Silents / Veterans / traditionalists (1925-1945), The Baby Boomers (1946 - 1964),
Generation X / Gen X-ers (1964 - 1979), Generation Y / Millenials / Net Generation (1980 - 1994) and
Generation Z (1995 - 2005), starting from the beginning of the twentieth century to our days. The criteria
differentiating between them was the historical event that influenced the evolution of the individual.
2.1.The Silents Generation/ Veterans / Traditionalists (1925 – 1945)
It is the generation of survivors of the World War I, World War II, The Great Depression, and
those who contributed to the invention of the atomic bomb and effects etc. Their characteristic is thinking
in terms of white or black, determination, adherence to rules.
Authority is above any laws, the belief exists, that if you follow the rules, you'll be the winner.
Primary values: respect for authority, loyalty, hard work, sacrifice for the common good, "live to work
versus work to live", no pension, we work until we die, or in a more "optimistic" version, the pension is
to sit in an armchair to wait for death.
In some studies it appears as the generation born between 1943-1960, but the strict temporal
delimitation is insignificant. Identifying characteristics of this generation is linked to stable families, that
provided them with all necessary without feeling threatened, with economic growth specific to the
postwar period, a frenetically style of life and the desire to change and rise against social taboos. It values
peace, freedom, material well, they think, their generation will change the world. They are strongly
influenced by their friends opinions and television.
For the first time in human history it is accepted that you have children outside of marriage and
that union of two young does not necessarily mean marriage. Hence the acceptance of divorce as a
tolerable reality, as well as the acceptance of homosexuality.
Different time slots (1964-1979 and 1965-1980) should be found for this generation as well, but
that should make any difference in their characteristics. They are also called the "key around the neck -
generation" because the changes in the concept of the family brings to either single parents or families, in
which the mother leaves the house for her job, leading to greater autonomy of the child. Receiving more
responsibilities, the children have to care for themselves, starting from the daily routine, till the
relationships with others and even assuring the social security. All of this effects lead to risk taking,
openness to change and even accepting diversity as a norm of life.
Generation X is first self dependent generation (self-reliant), who value free time (they can do
whatever they wants) and fun. Its slogan is "work to live and not live to work". Developments in
technology help them move to the media space and the virtual world. Therefore they are first to have a
personal computer, with which social connection extends to cyberspace.
This generation has the years 1981-1991 as a possible temporal framing as well. Generation Y
represents approximately 30% of the current population of the planet. It is said that they are most
educated generation. They grew up in a society driven by technology, which gave them the possibility to
have access to information via the Internet and the gadgets are part of the daily routine. Raised in
different family types, they tolerate change, they are used to it and they even look for it and challenge it.
They always ask themselves questions, they do not accept to take things as they are: why it should be that
way, as it might be this way as well?
This conduct reflects exactly how their relationship with authority is - it will be reduced to its
annihilation unless they will get the answer to the question "why?", and at times they are forced to carry
out an objective, about which they do not understand its use, its significance, the individual is likely to
limit itself and wrap everything in nihilism. The specifics of this generation is inconsistent state that
oscillates between the internalized lack of meaning and social expansion with no meaningful goal. This
state swings so quickly between the two poles, that is actually becomes two parallel attitudes, that exist in
individual, although apparently they disagree.
It is the generation for which the world "did not exist before technology", therefore everything
there is life, be it school, education, be it the professional life, it must be in connection with technology.
Northeastern University (USA) conducted a study of young people aged between 16 and 19, who
produced one of the most complete pictures of these young people, among other things, on how they see
the importance of education in all forms and on all its levels. They are "highly entrepreneurial, pluralistic,
and determined to take charge of their own futures," as they are characterized by Joseph E. Aoun, the
president of the university.
The Children of this generation were the ones, who threw out the toys in favor of computers and
devices and learned intuitively by themselves how to use them. Therefore we will not be surprised that, as
highlighted by the current research (Sparks, & Honey, 2014), children of the generation Z spend about
41% of their time outside school on the computer or on other devices, suffering from FOMO (fear of
missing out ).
Their thinking about the work, that will try to obtain it later, is starting already in high school, but
they know that fundamental for the realization of this desire is a university graduation, because the
university diploma becomes the guarantor of security. The communication is largely virtual environment
on five different types of gadgets: Smart TVs, smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers.
These loopholes into the virtual, while augmenting the reality, become guarantors and security - a concept
they constantly applies in the everyday life: if millenialii were narcissists and eager to be seen on
communication networks (in order to verify their identity by the boomerang method), generation Z
subjects are concerned about their privacy.
Through social networking, individuals of the generation Z easily create links with members of
other cultures, which they consider integrated into a global culture group, in which all individuals are
equal in terms of identity (Daniel Burrus, 2016). Besides of the positive aspects about the omnipresence
of technology in their lives, a number of issues that raise concern have been found. Thus, the constant
presence of gadgets in the lives of these young people are reflected by mutations in certain mental
processes, such as decreased period of attention from 12 seconds in the years 2000 to 8 (Sparks, &
Honey, 2014). These changes may be due to the fact that were generated due to completeness of
information, their brains should a digest and so it was forced to perceive reality in smaller pieces and its
significance at a higher speed. But, if there are larger structures of information, the attention of the young
people will decrease, precisely because the mind is used to identify as soon as possible the most
important and significant parties. That leads to the concentration of their language into symbols, bringing
the risk of creating a certain ambiguity by condensing the images (the most effective way to get their
attention is by placing images randomly selected as a background for the text, you want to send as a
message) and more recently, the so-called comes "vines" - short videos that do not exceed 7 seconds. This
language leaves room for interpretation and diversity of viewpoints. The rapidity with which their brain, works can also be seen in their attitude through superficiality and negligence. 46% of the teachers, who
participated in surveys of the US researchers, believe that digital tools are making individuals to write to
soon what they think, which generates some mistakes (Sparks, & Honey, 2014).
This effect is not seen as a threat by the subjects of Generation Z, because they see the world as a
multitude of possibilities: their conversation stems brief responses, with the formal appearance of stanzas,
of monobloks, being generally a notation of the thought of the moment, because individual knows that
there will always be the possibility of repairing any imprecision in the message by adding comments and
meta-comments to the original message.
As for sports, it is only considered a tool to be healthy and not as a way to "play" with colleagues
and friends (this explains the large number of obese children and adolescents, for whom sport is
The characteristiscs of teachers belonging to the Baby Boomers or Silent generations
A comparison between the features of teachers belonging to the Baby Boomers or Silent
generations, some of them still being in the field of observation, can be observed in Table 1.
If it were to look at the characteristics of the pupils and the teachers of the generations X and Y, the following would strike out (Table 2).
Image of "the teacher of the Generation Z"
Due to the economic crisis of 2008-2010, children raised at the time see the future in terms of a
stable job, which may be given to them only by obtaining a university degree. Therefore a faculty
graduation becomes a priority to them and their options are analyzed, thought and rethought ever since
high school years (Denise Hawkins, 2015).
Per se, the teacher should not express judgmental thoughts, if it is a good idea or not for teens to
choose in a turbulent period an long shot option, but they have to adapt to their requirements: If these are
the interests of generation Z, then the teacher must become one that offers methods to provide the student
the best option. What does this mean? It means that the teacher will not try to be the coach of the student
(students), he will rather play the role of a mentor. In other words, the teacher does not oblige students to
anything, he makes them understand. He shows them their options and teach them to compare them, take
a decision and to take responsibility for it.
But in order to do this, the teacher should be always at least one step ahead of the times. He should
know what's new in techniques and technology, he should know how to adapt to new technologies in the
didactical process, and even know how to use the devices for the introduction / acquisition / evaluation of
learning content, how to use these to meet the needs of students. Let us not forget that students of the
generation Z have learned, in the majority of the cases alone how to use all these devices. Therefore,
professors of the generation Z needs to have a good knowledge of the devices the students use and their
functioning. He must always think how to integrate them into the classroom and how to get students to
use them in a constructive way. The picture of a teacher, who is a walking encyclopedia, has been
forgotten today. He does not know everything, he cannot know everything and he does not even need to
know. He only needs to be the one, who teaches his students how to use technology for learning,
regardless of where it occurs, and help them discern the genuine from the fake.
The student of the generation Z is easily distracted by: social media, smartphones, email, Internet
offers, all these are challenges which will disrupt his attention. Therefore it is recommended that in
teaching that the teacher will only refer to new and the most relevant information.The taught content
should be divided into short sequences, only a few minutes long, accompanied by creative and varied
Because the student of the generation Z prefers to communicate through images, icons and
symbols, we should try to introduce the taught contents through visual representations, static (drawings,
charts, maps, etc.) or dynamic (movies, videos, etc.) that are more easily understood and accepted by
pupils than theoretical and descriptive contents.
We must become aware that students of the generation Z do not like presentations, lectures, and
because of the distractions and spoilers, understanding things with will be truncated and incoherent for
them. Their focus on a subject is very short and tenuous.
Because they are indestructible linked to the Internet, the students of the generation Z love games.
These are extremely useful and relaxing and games with didactic purposes are able to increase the
motivation in terms of involvement and participation by their educational content.
They are not the declared enemies of books, because they have been reading at an small age, of
course with the parent`s help, but what they do now, what they post or share is more important to them in
order to get that "like", which brings them the importance and notoriety they want.
This chronology of generations and their specific features has the purpose to bring to light the
image of the specific teacher for this generation, very precisely in order to understand why current
generations do not respond to the same stimuli and challenges as the ones before.
We often hear teachers complain that they cannot keep the class under control, they cannot provide
a conducive atmosphere of teaching, that students cannot concentrate, that they are not paying attention,
they are not interested etc.
I think it is time to move on to our analysis, as teachers of a particular generation, and we should
analyze our own behavior against the requirements of our students. What do they want and what do we
want? /how could we make our desires to intersect?
Looking at some of the studies made over the last generation, we can understand their needs and
try to meet those needs. Of course, it is hard for teachers to accept that we are no longer the main source
of knowledge in the lives of the children, but we must accept change in role hanging us and we must
assume. Otherwise, we will only be two camps that "fight" in different planes, never intersecting.
To conclude, we could say that it is necessary for teachers of the generation Z to move focus on:
- moving from giving advices, instructions, or suggesting them what to do, to standing out for our
decisions, sometimes risking even by experimenting in order to find new paths of learning;
- leaving the same routines in order to create new learning situations and to draw concrete tasks, novelty,
which require their critical thinking;
- trading role of the teacher as friend, that protects them, for the role of a critical teacher who motivates
them causing them to engage and fight.
This finds its answer in the idea that the ability to learn and reproduce social and relational
behaviours is no longer the key to success in life, as it was once for baby-boomers for instance. On the
other hand, social relationships and forms of changing are steadily dismantled, reassembled, rebuilt. This
brings us to the idea that individual learning, alone, in a quiet solitude is unacceptable for generation Z.
What they really want is to combine interests within similar communities, which have the capacity to
both fragment and to recombine with each other.
As educator, we must more reflect at the words of American historian Jacques Barzun: “teaching
is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.” Maybe it`s the time for us, professors to start to
reflect more about that.
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