Students speak up 



To better understand what it’s like to grow up in 21st-century America, Kappan asked a group of Educators Rising student leaders to share their thoughts about their lives and experiences.  


What do adults, especially teachers, get wrong about people your age, and what do you wish they understood? 

DYLAN: It is often evident to me that adults and teachers look down upon our generation. They think that we are a group of rebellious teens who spend their time on their phones doing nothing but social media and watching Netflix. And while that may be true for some, our generation deserves more. We deserve better. We are the generation that is going to cure cancer, the generation that will end the Flint water crisis, and the generation that will produce higher-caliber educators. I wish that adults and current teachers understood that everyone is unique and just because we have a societal stigma, that does not mean that none of us has the chance to succeed.  

SHAMIRA: They always swear they have been in our shoes before; I find that hard to believe considering each and every one of us is our own entity. When we talk to you we are not always looking for advice, sometimes we just want to you listen and allow us to voice our thoughts without imposing your personal experiences or opinions on us. I personally do not remember many times where I confided in a teacher and they were just like, “Your feelings are valid and you are allowed to feel like that.” I think it is easier to deal with emotions when they have been affirmed. 

RIVER: Adults today do not understand the amount of work that my peers put into their lives. They tend to just notice when we sit down to watch a movie or relax when, in reality, we are going to school during the day, struggling to make a decent amount of money to live off, while juggling grades and hours upon hours of homework just so we can chase the American Dream with a college education that is too expensive. Teachers tend to pile on work and work thinking that it builds character, but I assure you that three problems that reinforce a lesson taught during the day will do the exact same as the three hours of repetition that’s doing nothing but wasting my time. When students work for a living as well as attending school full-time, an hour of homework per class each night is too much. 

What are your greatest fears and biggest hopes for the future?  

ELIZABETH: One of my greatest fears is that I may not be as good of a teacher as I hope to be. It terrifies me that I may not get to do everything I want to do with my life and that my goals are too far out of reach. My biggest hope is that I stay involved with education-related organizations and do my best to provide what I can for my future students. I truly hope that the education field receives what it needs, as many educators are walking out to ask for resources they need to better teach their students. 

DYLAN: When looking at my future, it is quite blurry. I know that I want to teach for a few years and then hopefully work my way up into administration at both the school and district level. I know that I want to get married and have kids, and I know that I want to be the best role model that I can be. But how and when will I get there? That’s the question that drives my fear. Given this, however, I am confident that I will thrive. With a positive attitude and dedicated mind-set, nothing can stop me.  

How much time do you spend online or using your cell phone? What do you use it for? Do you feel addicted or wish you could use it less (or more)? What do adults not understand about the ways in which you use technology to learn, socialize, and relax? 

 SHAMIRA: I use technology all day. From checking the time, to setting my alarm, and everything in between. For example, my Bible is really old so I use it at home, but at church I just use the Bible app on my phone. I talk to friends from other countries on my phone, I set my alarms to wake me up, I email my professors, and all my homework is online. The majority of the food places on campus have screen ordering. I am not addicted; I am functioning.  

Adults do not understand that we did not choose this life for ourselves. We were not the generation that created the internet, nor were we the generation that modernized the use of technology, but we’re the generation that was born into a world that thrives off of technology. I wish y’all would realize we are just functioning in the world that was placed before us. Can you really be mad at us? Half of our parents sat us in front of screens for entertainment.   

ELIZABETH: I feel like I definitely use my cell phone too much! I use it mostly to stay in touch with my friends, but also to study class notes on the go and answer emails. I wish I wasn’t so dependent on it. There are times when I only check my phone because it calms my anxiety to know that my loved ones are a click away. I believe that some adults feel like the younger generations are wasting their time away on an electronic device, but do not see the benefits of having this said device. Older generations do not understand that technology will keep advancing, that this is not the best that it will be. 

DYLAN: Being a college student, I find myself on my phone quite often. However, not near as much as some of my friends or family members. Throughout a typical day, I spend probably four hours on my phone — using apps such as Instagram (@ddylanschneider), Twitter (@ddylanschneider), and other platforms, such as Canvas for school. To others, it may seem like I spend all my time on social media when most of the time I am checking my grades, turning in assignments, or working on an essay when I do not have access to my laptop. Cell phones can become addictive, but if used correctly, they are just another tool.  

To what extent have standardized tests been part of your life, and how do you feel about them? How much time is spent in class preparing for these tests? Does it seem like too much, or not? How have they affected teaching and learning in your schools?  

DYLAN: Standardized tests have played a huge role in my life, even to this day. While I know many people believe they are awful and provide unfair results, I am not against them. Without these tests, I would have never been able to gather the skills I needed for the ACT, which helped me get into college. In elementary and middle school, we all hated them, except for the candy we got beforehand! Besides that, I feel we spend the right amount of time discussing them and preparing for them in class. My teachers would mention them throughout the year and say something along the lines of “oh remember this for our state assessment!” and then we would review during the weeks prior. I am an advocate for assessments, whether hands-on or pencil and paper, and I believe this view came from my childhood, where our teachers prided themselves on their test scores, which I do not believe is a bad thing.  

SHAMIRA: Standardized tests changed the way I studied. I did not study for understanding, depth, or mastery. I studied for the grade. As I approached my senior year in high school I started to discard rubrics. When I did this, I learned more and scored less, but for kids like me a point or 10 here or there is not too bad. But kids out there really struggling cannot stray from the rubric. If the goal of standardized testing is to teach students that all assessments will be uncomfortable and stressful, then the American school system is excelling. Oh, is that not the goal? Then, what is? To assess students’ learning you say? I would have never guessed. 

ELIZABETH: I have been taking standardized tests for almost as long as I have been a student. I don’t even remember the first time I took a standardized test. I believe that standardized tests only indicate whether or not a student is a good test taker. I’m the type of student who prefers to take their time when taking an exam, to be sure that I have done it to the best of my ability. We always spent the month or so leading up to an exam to practice our time management and how quickly we could answer questions. To me, it always seemed as if we spent too much time on an exam that was meant to define us as a score. I feel we could be spending more time being taught something new instead of hitting pause on our learning to review for this exam. 

RIVER: As someone who did achieve that perfect standardized test score, these tests have been a massive part of my educational career. All high school has not been about finding passions and interests for my potential major in the upcoming college semesters, but rather to get higher and higher scores on these standardized tests. I do not think that these tests gauge mental ability well. Yes, I may be smart, but talking with my peers and being able to see how creatively they can think or see how deep their thoughts go, these values do not always transfer to a standardized test. I know plenty of brilliant students who cannot ever get above a 23 on the ACT.  

What do you think teachers could do better to engage and encourage students your age and younger?  

DYLAN: Make learning more engaging. At Emporia State, we are big into student-centered learning and facilitating experiences where students can be in charge. Growing up, I never had young teachers, so most of my experience was typical lecture and test learning, which at the time, I did not hate. However, after being in college and learning about various ways to teach, I am excited to get in the classroom. When I start my first teaching job, I will be 20 years old and probably the youngest in the building. I am going to take that to my advantage. I was in my students’ shoes the most recently and know what they need for success. I encourage all teachers to be more personable and reach out when they need to. Never be afraid of students, parents, or being yourself. Success is internal and if you believe in yourself, so will everyone else.  

SHAMIRA: Stop only reinforcing what we are bad at. Why do teachers not put as much effort into finding students’ strength, as they do into finding their gaps? I could use my strengths to learn better, but I do not know them. I want to do more self-exploration in the classroom. I believe self-exploration can lead to more personalized and effective encouragement to all the students in a class. It can help students to set their own goals. I think that is true for all grade levels.  

But for higher-level grades have us apply our strengths and identities that we discovered through self-exploration in school to thought provoking issues and questions. Make us personalize our own learning.  



Elizabeth Soriano-Salgado 

Educators Rising National President 

University of Nebraska at Lincoln 


Shamira Peters 

Educators Rising National Vice President 

University of North Texas 


River Braden 

Educators Rising National Student Chief of Staff 

Whitley County High School, Ky. 


Dylan Schneider 

Educators Rising National Secretary 

Emporia State University, Kan. 


Citation: Soriano-Salgado, E., Peters, S., Braden, R. & Schneider, D. (2019). Students speak up. Phi Delta Kappan, 100 (7), 28-30.  

ELIZABETH SORIANO-SALGADO is the Educators Rising National President and a student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
SHAMIRA PETERS is Educators Rising National Vice President and a student at the University of North Texas.
RIVER BRADEN is the Educators Rising National Student Chief of Staff and a student at Whitley County High School, Ky.
DYLAN SCHNEIDER is the Educators Rising National Secretary and a student at Emporia State University, Kan.

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