J2 Content – Perspectives

A varied collection of thoughts on education and parenting

I’d Take a Veteran Teacher Over a Younger Teacher

Let me say right off the bat that I am 37 years old and have been teaching for 13 years. I consider myself to be neither “young” nor “old” – I’m right in the middle.

Now that that’s out of the way, I feel a need to say that younger teachers are overrated. I’m not saying that they don’t have the potential to become excellent educators one day, but the buzz and preference to have a “new teacher, just out of college” is unfounded.

I understand that movies like Teachers and most television shows depict teachers over the age of 50 (which I am not) as sleepy, unmotivated, uninformed dinosaurs whose apathy and stubbornness impedes the education of our youth. As a foil, young teachers are depicted as being able to reach students in innovative ways and to be able to make the most dry subjects fun and interesting. While I understand the source of those stereotypes and cannot say there are no individuals who fit them, I must emphatically declare that it simply isn’t the case.

When I was first hired as a teacher, I liked to think I fit that stereotype. I’d just spent hundreds of hours studying the latest incarnation of my state’s standards and the national guidelines. I had drafted pages and pages of highly detailed lesson plans and familiarized myself with all the latest ideas on how to make learning productive and fun. I was hip (I used AIM and watched all the right TV shows). My student-teacher experience was positive, but in hindsight very sheltered. My cooperating teacher ran interference for me on much of the bureaucracy involved in being a teacher, and much of the planning that goes into a school year was already done long before my 8-week stint began.

I began my first teaching job, as one of a handful of young teachers. We “new teachers” stuck together and truly bought into the hype that we were somehow a better option for our students: that we understood our students, the material, and how to teach, better than our older peers. Our gung-ho ideas and right-from-the-movies enthusiasm ran into several obstacles, which we blamed on our older colleagues. With more than a dozen years of experience, I now see that our frustrations were misdirected and our perceptions of our peers were wrong.

Once my ego fell in check, I began to look more closely at what my older colleagues were doing. They were using some of the older, familiar techniques I grew up with, but there were some new ideas mixed in there. They were not resisting change or fighting against the progressive ideas bandied about in college – they were picking and choosing what they felt were best for their students. Using their experience as educators, their understanding of their students and the community in which they taught, to craft a teaching style which met their students’ needs. They had seen many “latest trends” come and go in their time as teaches, and knew better than to try and shift everything which each new journal publication. They were not ignoring what I had learned in college, they were adapting it… taking ownership of the suggestions and implementing them in a more effective way than I or any of the younger teachers were doing. What I had at first considered to be stubbornness, I now saw to be confidence and (again) ownership of their methodology.

By contrast, I look now at the teachers who are just coming out of college, and I cringe. They do things in their classrooms because someone told them to, not because they truly understand the reasoning behind it. They do not have the comfort, confidence, or wisdom to customize what they have been told to best fit their teaching situations. When something is challenged by a student or parent, they run to an administrator – most often because they cannot justify their actions. They genuinely do not know WHY they are doing things the way they are.

The younger teachers are happy to jump on any suggestion from an in-service day or workshop, and do not think twice about the consequences for students when you change style and focus abruptly. They have not yet seen the ebb and flow of support for various education movements, nor do they realize that the models sold by these traveling in-service salesmen speakers are purposefully generic and made to fit all schools on the surface, but none perfectly without some customization.

But the outside public doesn’t realize this. The thought is that these younger teachers are far superior to the burnt out, older teachers. I do not think there are nearly as many burnt out teachers as the public thinks, and I would contend that many of the not-so-good teachers have moved into administrative roles and are no longer in the classroom. I’ve seen more than ten colleagues who my peers and I felt were not strong teachers (I wouldn’t want my children to have them as teachers) go on to become vice-principals, principals, and department heads.

I would further contend, and I may well have been guilty of this 13 years ago, that the younger teachers are making it harder for the older teachers. It’s easy to sell out others to try to make yourself look good, and when you’re chit-chatting with the principal it’s easy to throw those veteran teachers under the bus for not rushing to support the latest administrative effort. Sitting squarely in the middle, age-wise, I see how little voluntary interaction there is between the younger and more senior teachers. I see the veterans shake their heads at the arrogance and quick-judgments of the newbies, and I feel badly for the veterans that they are stuck with this unfavorable image by so many.
If I had kids, I would not want them to have any teacher with less than 6 years experience. I share that advice with my neighbors and relatives all the time, but continue to see them clamor for the class with a student-teacher or the new hire from the teachers college down the road. I’m sure their children will turn out all right, but I strongly believe they are worrying about the wrong aspect of the education process. Instead of fighting to get your kid out of the class with a 22-year veteran because the son of a guy you know from the gym had bad things to say about her, fight to restore the school band or to see the school put a working pencil sharpener in each classroom. Contest the way winners of a county championship are each bought a $50 jacket (in addition to their varsity jacket) by the school when your school cannot afford to have their textbooks rebound.

There may be some brilliant young teachers, but you will find that they, like their peers, only get better with age and experience.

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