Class Of 2014

It’s not unseemly to think that high school students today are not what they used to be a generation ago.

With leaps in technology juxtaposed with economic challenges and a slew of shifting educational reforms, students are more conflicted today than ever before – resourceful and tech-savvy, but prone to distraction and impatience.

Daniel Bowman, a recently retired science teacher at Panama High School, believes the advent of new technologies has led to a culture of instant rewards and gratification, a phenomenon that has gradually undermined the focus of today’s students.

“The number of motivated kids has tapered off,” he said.

“I don’t think many kids have the patience and dedication that they (used to have) … and I think cellphones are a potential nemesis for the educational setting as far as being a constant opportunity for distraction,” Bowman continued.

Tom Nelson, a U.S. history teacher at Frewsburg High School, echoed Bowman’s observations, blaming technology for potentially “spoon feeding” students a bit too much.

“Every kid has a little computer in their pocket,” Nelson said. “They have smartphones and can do amazing things … but sometimes students don’t have to work as hard and can even become a little bit lazy.”

Of course, technology wasn’t completely discounted.

Bowman, a teacher at Panama for 29 years, acknowledged that students’ overall “tech-savviness” compared to students of the past was a major change for the better.

“The kids are a step ahead of most of their teachers … and that’s a credit to them.” he said.

Nelson similarly praised technology for expanding the limits of the classroom.

“When I started, we had chalkboards … and overhead projectors were the new technology,” he said. “Now we have Smart Boards and PowerPoint … and you can Skype with other classrooms across the continent. It’s pretty cool.”

Moreover, many students – despite the distractions – are still driven to succeed.

Michael Tuccio, a global studies teacher at Jamestown High School, described how students continue to defy expectations amidst economic challenges like poverty and unemployment.

“Jamestown is an area that faces many more challenges than it did a generation ago,” he said. “One way that a tough national economy trickles down is that high school students can’t find jobs at times. I can’t believe how many 16-year-olds tell me that they have trouble finding part-time employment. When I was in high school, every kid that wanted a job could have one. All that said, there are a lot of driven students that truly want to learn. There are a lot of students who know education is a way out.”

Indeed, even the behavior of students has seemingly approved.

According to Bowman and Nelson, many of the typical vices of students like smoking in the bathroom and fighting in the hallway have all but disappeared.

“It’s really improved quite a bit,” Bowman said. “I think students today don’t feel it’s cool to get upset and display their emotions like that anymore.”

As far as teaching is concerned, Bowman, along with Nelson and Tuccio, have little regrets.

“It was a good career for me straight on through,” Bowman said. “We’ve had a lot of successful kids come out of Panama … a lot of science majors, engineers, doctors, pharmacists … it’s very rewarding.”

Bowman, who’s admittedly skeptical of the Common Core reforms to the education system, said he worries that improving instruction and making it “too appealing” to students will ultimately do a disservice to them.

“(Students) need to know how to learn from a teacher who just talks … and (they need to know how) to take notes, survive and adapt their learning style,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the teachers who need to be motivated to get better … I think it’s the kids who really need to learn why it is really important to perform at their best level.”

Tuccio praised the staff of Jamestown High School for their efforts to adapt to such changes and bring students the best possible education.

“I enjoy teaching now more than ever,” Tuccio said. “The challenges are greater, the stakes are much higher, but I know that the kids at JHS today need great teachers more than ever.”