A lot has been written lately about the class of 2020 facing the same job market as college graduates confronted during the financial crisis of 2007-09 -- fewer job offers, lower starting salaries and fewer opportunities to advance. However, from my experience teaching the class of 2020 this spring term, I am hoping for the opposite. I believe this graduating class has proven themselves committed, flexible and community-minded, and I am hoping employers take notice and hire them as soon as economic conditions allow.

This has been a tough term for the students in education I teach at Merrimack College. With K-12 schools closed, many of my current students find themselves with fewer opportunities to teach, assist or observe. They have had to be more proactive working with their teachers and principals, they have needed to volunteer more for extra duties, and have needed to seek out ways to advance their career at a time when everything is uncertain.

As a result, I feel more confident in these students’ long term success as teachers, and I am able to speak much more directly to their level of commitment and care for their K-12 students.

While the situation right now is difficult for students, it has also brought out many of their positive characteristics, ones that might have gone untested or unnoticed during a regular term.

Some of my students have taken on running a daily meeting for their K-12 students over Zoom. Some are helping their colleagues find resources ASAP for online teaching, and look for curricula that will work in this new setting. A number are recording lessons or demonstrations for their cooperating teacher to use with the students.

Others have taken on contact with families on behalf of the school, or are working one-on-one with students who may be struggling to find their feet in this new environment. Some have even participated in groups of teachers driving through neighborhoods to wave “hi” to their students and families.

I have been impressed with the willingness of students to help out the community outside their own classroom. My students have offered to record video book reading for teachers or after-school program leaders who need a book read but no longer have access to it. This book-reading service by demand has been used by programs from Michigan to Lawrence, and it allows teachers or programs to request a book (often based on a kid's request), and my students will send a video of a reading, often with same-day recording.

My students have also taken on remote tutoring of K-12 students, ranging from K-12 students in our community who are struggling with distance learning, to helping kids in China learn English. Students in our program have volunteered to be tutors at programs such as Big Friends, Little Friends, where many students are struggling to find their feet with this new remote system.

When it comes time to write recommendations for students this term, or to evaluate their work, I find myself coming back to phrases such as proactive, willing to do everything possible, looking for every opportunity, committed, community minded, and relentless.

They have faced real obstacles and have stepped up to meet them.

This current crisis will be the defining moment of their generation, and they have proven themselves in ways we would not have guessed a few months ago. If they are able to keep this momentum going, both individually and as a group, they will make a real difference in this world.

Russell Olwell is associate dean of the School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College.

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