“Kids today are too fragile. We’re raising a generation of snowflakes!”
It’s a universal truth: As long as there are young people, there will be older people who complain about them. Today’s generation of youth are more entitled and less self-reliant than ever, they say, and if nothing changes, society as we know it is in grave trouble.
OK, boomer. We teachers know better.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has created a myriad of issues for schools, it has also allowed educators to witness the resilience of our children firsthand. The past year and a half has been marked by sickness, racial injustice, and widening economic and political divisions. While navigating this uncertain landscape has proven challenging, the way in which our students have continued to adjust and adapt is nothing short of inspiring.
As A Teacher, I See Resilience Every Day
This pandemic has impacted all of us in unique ways. In my backyard here in Western Kentucky, we’ve struggled with high transmission rates of COVID-19 since the very beginning of the pandemic, forcing local schools to utilize hybrid and remote learning models for the majority of last school year. Though we’re back five days a week now, seeing students simultaneously navigate social-emotional issues, learning loss, and the exhaustion of their teachers suggests this school year may end up being even more difficult. In spite of it all, I know my students will continue to persevere.
How do I know? Because I’ve seen their resilience on display every day these last twenty months. I’ve taken to heart the stories and experiences my students have shared in their writing. I’ve watched as the youth of my community have navigated their own unique responses to this crisis, yet never failing to lift up a peer in need, lead fundraisers for a cause they believed in, or commit themselves to a student leadership role within our school.
In fact, student resilience can be found everywhere adults are willing to look. In Selma, it’s evident in the 800+ students engaging in intensive intervention programs to recover from pandemic-related learning loss. In Mount Vernon, Iowa, it’s found in students using this pandemic as an opportunity to embrace activism and fight for social change. And for millions of educators like this Indianapolis teacher, it’s seen in the the simple act of staying flexible and rolling with all the punches that education during COVID-19 entails. Examples of our students’ perseverance are truly all around us.
We Can Celebrate Resilience While Still Helping Those Who Are Struggling
Any time teachers throw around terms like “resilience” or “grit” in the context of our students, it may be helpful to toss in a few clarifying statements. It’s no secret that there are some pretty negative influences out there who have sought to weaponize these terms as a victim-blaming tactic.
However, any teacher worth her salt knows that when students are struggling, it isn’t because they lack the grit or resilience of their peers. The notion that students should simply “get tougher” or “stick it out” when many of the problems they are facing stem from complex, systemic factors is not a solution—it’s just insulting.
Instead, times like these should really challenge us be more thoughtful about what resilience really means in the first place. For some students, resilience may mean organizing a campaign or student voice rally around an important issue. For others, it may simply mean showing up each morning. Both actions are brave and important in their own way.
The COVID-19 crisis has likely forced everyone outside of their comfort zones by now, but perhaps no group more so than our students. If anyone has the nerve to question the tenacity of our students, just point them in the direction of the nearest public school. Find a classroom full of children, and you’ll see resilience on full display.
Garris Stroud is an award-winning ELA educator, author, and advocate from rural Western Kentucky. He is a former Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow and member of the Kentucky Education Commissioner’s Teacher Advisory Council (TAC).