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 Talkin' 'bout My Generation


When Dean Swafford began teaching, Lisa Bynum entered first grade, Tracy Dendinger started preschool, and Brandie Disberger wasn’t even born yet. Today, all are agriculture teachers and, if they weren’t living in different parts of the country, could be teaching together every day.

Schools are filled with teachers fresh out of college, teachers nearing retirement and everything in-between. This combination of experience and fresh ideas can make for a vibrant instructional environment. It also can lead to some conflict—and the agriculture classroom is no exception.

“Teachers from other generations are great to bounce ideas off of, but some can be pessimistic,” says Brandie Disberger, an agriculture instructor and FFA advisor for Southeast of Saline High School in Kansas. At age 29, she was born in 1979 and is thus considered a member of Generation Y, or a “millennial.” She teaches in an active style, usually beginning and ending with a class activity. Millennials tend to work in a personal, interactive environment – typical traits of an activity-driven classroom like Disberger’s.

Millennials are born in the years from 1977 to 1998. Other generations teaching today include Generation X, born from approximately 1964 to 1976, and baby boomers, born from 1946 to about 1963. These generational birth years vary in estimation, but the result is three generations of teachers working together in U.S. schools. Why should this matter?

In an August 2004 article from the American Psychological Association, authors Diane Theilfoldt and Devon Scheef maintain that each generation shares a common set of experiences, ideas and values—meaning people from different generations often have a different approach to work and their priorities. Being aware of these differences can help people understand one another and work together more effectively. (See “Common Traits of Generations” table.)

“Working with staff from other generations can sometimes be very challenging,” says Lisa Bynum, agriscience teacher and FFA advisor for Heritage Middle School in Florida. Bynum was born in 1967 and is a Gen X’er. “Kids today have so many more challenges than when I was growing up, and you have to have patience and a little forgiveness. Sometimes baby boomers are not quite as understanding of how today’s teenagers act.” Bynum also observes that she, herself, is laid back, can’t sit still for long and is very good at multi-tasking, all of which affects her teaching style. While much of this may be Lisa’s personality, it’s also true that Generation X’ers crave a flexible environment, multitask well and accept diversity.

At age 37, Tracy Deninger, agriculture educator for Miami Trace High School in Washington Courthouse, Ohio, is also a Gen X’er. Like Bynum, she notices key teaching style differences between herself and older teachers. “The generation before me was just wired differently. They live this program 24/7; they live and breathe their job,” she observes. “I have hobbies and other things I’m going to pursue. I’m not going to live here. People in my generation work hard, but we won’t work for free.”

The concept that baby boomers are highly dedicated to work is one idea Dean Swafford agrees with. Born in 1951, he is planning on retiring from Savannah R-III High School in Savannah, Mo., this July at the age of 56. Swafford exhibits all the dedication of his generation, but none of the pessimism Disberger refers to. “It’s never, ever been a job to me. The money never made a dime’s bit of difference,” he says. “This is what I do, and I love it.” He says his family also got involved in his career, helping with meetings and going to events. “There were very few times we put family in front of work. We scheduled vacations when ‘Dad’ was going to be home,” he says.

Swafford now teaches with a Millennial agriculture instructor, who he says is a great teacher. “There are immense benefits to working with younger teachers,” he says. “I sit back and let them make their mistakes and give them advice if they ask. But on the other hand, they have such excitement and enthusiasm.” He acknowledges that rather than living to work, as he did, many young teachers work to live. But he says most of them work hard. “You can’t condemn young teachers today who want to devote more time to their family,” he adds.

Clearly, good teachers share more in common than they experience differences, no matter what their age. The next time a teacher from a different generation is difficult to understand, it may be helpful to remember it could be because of a generational difference hard-wired into their approach to life. It also may be helpful to realize they went into teaching for the same reasons you did, and each generation has much to learn from the others.


For more information on the teachers mentioned in this article, please click on their profiles below:

Dean Swafford

Lisa Bynum

Brandie Disberger


Common Traits of Generations


Generation X’ers

Baby Boomers

Wants balance; “work to live”

Want flexibility and freedom

Dedicated to job; “live to work”

Celebrate diversity

Competent and straightforward

Leadership with heart

Personal, interactive style

Individualistic/self reliant

Participative style

Internet; assume technology

PC; use technology

Politically savvy

High expectations; wants opportunity

Wants involvement

Wants recognition of experience