Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

Teach and Manage Gen Z with Empathy.

Marion Leary
3 min readMar 5, 2024

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I am both an educator in higher education and a parent of a soon-to-be college freshman; I was also, until very recently, a student. I, therefore, try to see my students through all of these lenses. Like many educators, I am excited by the students who come to class prepared and ready to engage, and I am dismayed by the students who show up late, are on their phones, seemingly disengaged.

I hear from faculty and managers who are frustrated with this generation of students. These frustrations were highlighted in the comments section of a recent article published in Business Insider entitled: Gen Z faces more pressure at work than previous generations because technology has eliminated work-life boundaries. Some of the remarks posted lamented about this “lazy” and “entitled” generation who don’t know “how to cope.” These are unfair and unempathetic statements. (You can check out my full thoughts on this topic in a recent podcast conversation I had with my colleague Rebecca Love on the Love n’ Leary podcast).

I see how hard some faculty and managers are on our students and new graduates. Seemingly giving little thought to what it must be like for young adults in this post-pandemic, politically charged, life-threatening environment (climate change, school shootings, etc.) full of misinformation, which has for most of their childhood been consistently filled with civil unrest, injustice, war, and hate — on campus and off.

As a parent, I see how hard it is for my kid and her friends to balance homework, sports, work, and the college application process while being teenagers who are expected to become young adults with common sense and good judgment. While also anticipating leaving home and all that is comfortable and safe in a world that feels — and is sometimes — not comfortable and safe. I think about my kid when I am teaching my students. I think about my kid when I talk with new graduates in the workforce. I think about the anxieties and struggles for which they are silently wrestling.

One study of high school students found that more than half stated they struggled with anxiety and depression. In college students, anxiety and depression are at an all-time high. Gen Z overall reports higher stress levels than the previous generation. This is more concerning for minoritized communities that report even higher rates of anxiety and depression and lower access to mental health services and support.

That is why, as a parent, I hope other educators consider all of these things. I firmly believe that students want to do what is expected of them academically. And why, as an educator, I understand that in the best of worlds, it can be extremely difficult for young adults to navigate and thrive in college — and the early years that follow — while living independently.

Education, and our responsibility as teachers, is more than traditional learning. We are forming young people into secure, well-rounded adults, into the humans we want and need them to be once they leave college. If we send them into the world feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and unsupported, what type of human does that create? What type of educator does that make us? We can — and should — do more than teach our students the subjects prescribed; we should support them holistically, with empathy, inside and outside the classroom. We should support them when they make their way out into the world of work, when they push back and set boundaries, demanding a balance between work and life.

That is why I strongly encourage my fellow educators (as well as managers and leaders) to teach (and manage) with empathy. Giving students and new graduates space and grace. Yes, we need to hold them accountable for the work required, but we can do that while also supporting them, checking in on them, and understanding them. We can do all of this and still teach them what they need to know. And when we do that in a way where students and workers feel supported, they will show up, engage, and thrive — academically, professionally, and as young adults. At the end of the day, isn’t that what education (and leadership) should really be about?

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Marion Leary

Science geek. Passionate abt Philly, resuscitation, social media, scicomm, innovation, art, & helping others. http://marionleary.strikingly.com