Hiring Millenials: A Primer for Old People (Like Me)

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Aging has taken on a special significance with me in recent weeks as I witnessed the passing of two giants of my generation in David Bowie and Glen Frey. Unreal and surreal.

When I looked over the images and read the stories, I thought about the special qualities that it must have taken for the two of them to transcend their generations and resonate with subsequent years, no easy feat.

I was listening to The Eagles Greatest Hits, reminiscing and poring over a large job data bank looking for, you guessed it, Millenials. I was looking through a number of applicants through the lens of a Gen Xer but knew that their needs, abilities, and ambitions were quite different from mine.

“Seven Bridges Road” had just started when one walked in. “Sorry to interrupt you,” she said, confidently. “But can I talk to you about such and such. I’ve thought the direction of it and I’m not sure that it’s where it needs to be, etc. etc.” I put my glasses down, minimized the postings on my computer, and gave her my full attention for nine minutes. I had to. She’s a Millenial.

(Disclaimer: The definition of millenials is filled with sweeping generalizations about the cohort of people born between 1980 and 2000 such as being entitled, precocious, digitally adept, trophy kids awarded for participation, and the offspring of the first generation of helicopter parents).

My point is that a lot of them are international teachers.

Like the young teacher who came to see me, a lot of Millenials are mobile, well-travelled, social media savvy, curious, tolerant, passionate about what they do, and hungry to be involved. They were the first real “net generation,” encouraged by sometimes over-involved parents to “follow their dreams,” and didn’t seem to respect authority as much as their angst ridden Generation X counterparts (like me). They seem to have a much more optimistic “can do” outlook than me and my somewhat more sober GenXers, and their questioning authority (they’d say ‘confidence’) keeps administrators like myself on our toes.

All of which makes these people fantastic international educators.

Yes, it’s difficult to manage folks who look at us like they could do our jobs in their sleep. Yes, it’s difficult to accept that their disregard for the way things have been done can be hard to take. Yes, it’s difficult to be democratic and inclusive in the decision making process when we were all weaned on the “my way or the highway” generation of administrators. (Those would be the baby boomers).

But it’s worth it. Even though I could do a much better job of delegating and involving Millenials in the hard and complex structures of managing an international school division, it’s their ability to make the complex simple with their time tested confidence and acceptance of diversity both in style and opinion that I find very compelling. Bowie and Frey transcended their generation and their industries because they understood this. They made the necessary adjustments to stay relevant, and weren’t focused on convention as much as resonance. That type of thinking motivates me.

I’ve written about it before and I’ll write it again that it’s not so much the alignment of what’s happening inside the classroom that has to change dramatically (and there’s plenty written on that topic) so much as the structures and frameworks outside of the class to enable these changes to happen that is critical.

I cannot think of a generation better equipped to handle this than the Millenials.

They’re not an easy group to manage. They have high expectations, demand results from us, have little patience for bureaucracy, and seem at times irreverent when it comes to ‘paying their dues.’ But, like the generations of kids behind them who cannot wait, their impatience and energy are critical for the innovation that we need to change the way we do business.

That doesn’t mean they can’t learn from us. There’s plenty to learn; about politics, managing people, consequence of action, expressing opinions, taking responsibility, and so on.

When the Millenial was done with her question, I opened my laptop again and said, “Now I have a question for you,” to which she was receptive. I asked how I could attract and retain more teachers like herself so that I could build a school around the future instead of the past.

“Ask us what we think and let us act on it,” she said…confidently.

Good luck GenX admin. And don’t worry, just because there’s a new kid in town doesn’t mean that you’re not relevant. You just need a little adapting to the times. It’s what made Frey and Bowie timeless.

About Stephen Dexter, Jr.

Stephen is an international educator and administrator. A native of the United States, he lives with his wife Stephanie (a specialist in families in global transition) in Croatia along with his daughter and son. With a career that spans over twenty years in public, private and international schools, he writes when he can and is on a quest to discover if "text walking" is changing the human brain.
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One Response to Hiring Millenials: A Primer for Old People (Like Me)

  1. Very interesting! I started to read this based on the snippet /taster that was posted on the front page of TIE Online. The reason being the different uses of English and the groupings (Millenials, baby boomers GenX). I hadn’t a clue what Stephen was talking about. Stephen and I have had some good conversations; I speak English from the Brit perspective and he speaks from the Yank perspective and it is always fun to see the differences. However I think it’s a very interesting article on the great initiatives and developments that are evolving with great rapidity in education and those of us from the dinosaur age should enjoy and embrace these changes.
    Yes Bowie evolved and kept re-inventing himself to be relevant; I love the Eagles but can’t say the same about them. The amazing thing is that the young kids that we teach can probably all sing along to “Hotel California” or the Beatles songs. I hope they get i “Heroes” in a similar way to what we have had!

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