New Insights: The Generation Gap in the Classroom

I attended pastry school later in life. Being 25 at the time, there were only one or two students older than myself. But since I had more life experience than the younger 75% of my class, I lumped myself in with the “older” students. I’m familiar with what it’s like to be an older student in the classroom.

In the year that I have been teaching, I’ve experienced classrooms full of many generations with varying degrees and varying degrees of life experience. Teaching so many different age groups, I find, can be challenging. There are days that I’m stepping far outside the lines of my definition of teacher.

I teach pastry which is a trade that involves a lot of hands on learning, yet there is also a fair amount of theory to teach. It’s hard to trouble shoot a fallen soufflé if you don’t understand the science behind the ingredients and baking reactions. In the hands-on portion, there is a lot of multi tasking, time management and time constraints – all of this equals a lot of pressure.

Although I don’t believe in the categorization of the cohorts, I do recognize patterns. The younger students prefer to work in teams, are tech savvy, and are focused on grades; however, they can often struggle with timing, problem solving and communicating (face to face). The older students see successes in the latter areas that the younger students struggled with, but struggle with technology and testing.

With all students, I find myself doing a lot of coaching, guiding and comforting.

In an article I came across “Teaching Strategies for Adult Learners,” Doherty recommends some teaching strategies for adult learners. His strategies are summarized by

  • Respecting the adult learners’ experience
  • Being supportive
  • Accepting and addressing technology gaps
  • Respecting the adult learners’ time
  • Thinking outside the box

The recommendation I take from the article is to include personal growth in the final grade. I think this can help with students of all ages to focus on the positive aspects of their learning experience.


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