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  • The Millennial Teacher:Metaphors for a New Generation
  • Kristine Johnson (bio)

The millennial generation has arrived in our classrooms as both teachers and students.1 The millennial generation, often called "millennials," is the name sociologists have given to Americans who were born after 1980 and who graduated from high school beginning in 2000. Assuming that a 2000 high school graduate spent four years in college, she could have entered graduate school, possibly as a teaching assistant, in the fall of 2004. Such is my story. In eighth grade, my class had the precarious honor of being named the "Smoke-Free Class of 2000," a designation that entailed looking at pieces of smokers' lungs and taking countless surveys about peer pressure. When I graduated from high school, we took even more surveys; as the first class of the new millennium, high hopes, sociological studies, and feature news stories were pinned on us. Although I recall some newspaper articles about the class of 2000 entering college, the media coverage seemed to have subsided by the time I graduated. And when I entered graduate school in rhetoric and composition in the fall of 2004, at the age of twenty-two, no one was asking me for interviews. The academic literature about my generation, however, is burgeoning. Books on "the millennial student" have become part of many college counselors' libraries, and student services journals are steadily publishing articles on how to best serve millennial students and their parents.

That so much of this new literature focuses on parents, as well as students, tells us a great deal about this generation. Mine was the generation that produced the soccer mom, and today, soccer moms are sending their children [End Page 7] to college at the highest rates in American history. Sociologists and historians who study generations make it clear that generations are defined in relation to existing generations, which, in the case of millennials, helps explain why parents are receiving so much attention. In their book When Millennials Go to College, Neil Howe and William Strauss argue that the baby boomer generation (parents of the millennial generation) sees the millennial generation as filling the role that was previously assumed by the GI—or greatest—generation. According to Howe and Strauss (2003: 22), baby boomers think that "the most important link this GI Generation has to today's teens is the void they leave behind: no other adult peer group possesses anything close to their upbeat, high-achieving, team-playing, and civic-minded reputation." The greatest generation needs a replacement, and baby boomer parents are pushing their children to achieve happiness and success.

In their first book on millennials—Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation—Howe and Strauss (2000: 43–44) offer seven characteristics of millennials, each of which has implications for the kind of college students and adults they will be. First, millennials have a sense they are special because they have been told, implicitly or explicitly, that they are vital to the nation's sense of purpose. Because they are vital for the future, they are in the public eye; Howe and Strauss (2000: 43) cite the hopes and "effusive rhetoric surrounding the high school Class of 2000." Because this generation is special, it has been sheltered—the second characteristic of millennials. This generation has been involved in a national safety movement, "starting with the early 1980s child-abuse frenzy, continuing through the explosion of kid safety rules and devices, and now climaxing with a post-Columbine lockdown of public schools" (43). Third, millennials are confident; they are part of an optimistic generation, trusting that they will have a bright future and become increasingly empowered with age. This optimism is connected to achievement, which is the fourth characteristic of millennials. Tangible achievements are important to this generation—and their parents—as preschool rankings at age three and standardized test scores at age seventeen have become regular status markers. Fifth, this generation is team oriented, which has been fed by "a new classroom emphasis on group learning" (44) and technology that makes it possible to be accessible at virtually any time. Sixth, millennials are conventional, "taking pride in their improving behavior and more comfortable with...