Why Old Teachers Suck: a post about the teaching experience

11 Nov

I suppose I should be honest and admit that I don’t really believe that all old teachers suck.  However, I’m glad I grabbed your attention.

Anyone who has ever taught can spot a new teacher almost instantly when walking into their classroom.  More importantly, the students seem to spot newbies from a mile away.

I’m sure there are many characteristics about new teachers that factor into this scenario.  Naturally, as in any job or endeavor, new teachers don’t have the confidence that one gains over time by doing something well repeatedly.  New teachers often have a hard time balancing their reactions to the students’ behavior and have to constantly question themselves: “Is this something I should make a big deal about and discipline right this moment, or do I let it go?  Or do I email or call home?  Or do I conference with the student?”  Consistency is often a challenge for those new to the profession.

classroom

Classroom

Over time, these thoughts and actions become almost automatic.  Don’t mistake me; experienced teachers still face moments of indecision, but these are few and far between compared to someone who has just begun.  Experienced teachers make a decision, stick with it, and don’t second-guess themselves.  This translates as consistency, control, and confidence to the students, which results in good classroom management. 

There are some teachers who let students call them by their first names.  Some teachers let their students use iPods and cell phones in class.  Some teachers allow a lot of dialogue to take place between students during class.  Some teachers let students call out rather than raising their hands.  Some teachers do all of the above, and some teachers do none of the above.

Somehow, in some older more experienced teachers’ minds, these techniques automatically must mean that the teacher is new, young, inexperienced, and/or has poor classroom management.  This is, potentially, a very damaging assumption to make. 

First of all, it seems that it is often true that these techniques are indeed used by teachers that are new or at least “young”.  However, as with any generalization, common sense should demonstrate that this is not always the case.  There is a lot of pressure to incorporate technology into current curriculum and teaching strategies.  Just go to Google and type in “technology in education” or “web 2.0 for teachers” or anything along those lines, and you will find a plethora of sites aimed at walking teachers through how to use Animoto, ToonDoo, Moodle, Prezi, and more in class.  Whether a teacher is new, old, experienced, inexperienced, or young is beside the point: all teachers should be investigating (and implementing) ways in which to incorporate new technology into the classroom.  Technology has become an integral part of everyone’s daily experience.

When dealing with K-12, one must also realize the “social animal” that is the audience.  Students are hyper, giddy, hormonal, angry, emotional, humorous, random, spastic, rude, disruptive, grateful, talkative, quiet, shy, and so on.  Bonding with students is extremely important to their success, and teachers have to muck through all of these social interactions to forge these relationships.  Many kids simply don’t care what you have to teach them until they know you care about them

For some teachers, this can be encouraged in classrooms where kids are allowed to use iPods, laptops, cell phones, etc.  It can be encouraged by attending their sports events, plays, choir shows, or whatever activities they are involved in.  Teachers can bond with their students by taking them on field trips or simply saying “Hey, how was your weekend?” to them in the hall.  Some teachers build these relationships by allowing their students to be very verbal (what some older more experienced teachers view as “loud” or “unruly”) with one another and with the teacher.  Some teachers even let the students call them by their first name, as mentioned above.

None of these practices are necessarily “bad” in and of themselves.  When one sees another teacher using such strategies, it would be wrong to jump to conclusions about how experienced this person is, or how “good” of a teacher they are.  Some teachers are able to maintain good classroom control while using laptops and iPods, and others are not.  Some teachers can hold every student’s attention in class even when letting the students converse with one another (as long as it’s on topic, of course).  Students can still respect a teacher and recognize them as an authority figure while calling them by their first name, and other teachers fail miserably at fostering respect when allowing this to happen.

As previously stated, confidence and consistency are two of the most important factors in determining a teacher’s success with students.  If a teacher is inconsistent, lacks confidence, or is not knowledgeable about their subject matter, almost all areas of their job will be negatively affected.  Students can practically smell fear or uncertainty.  It doesn’t matter how interesting the lesson the teacher put together is, or how many neat pieces of technology have been incorporated into the class, or whether or not the teacher is called “Sam” or “Mr. Robertson”.  If that teacher isn’t confident, consistent, and knowledgeable, the students will assume that the teacher “sucks”. 

 What does all of this have to do with bias against new and/or young teachers?  Over the past several years, I’ve seen more experienced teachers speak negatively about some of the above practices that new/young teachers often try to incorporate into the classroom.  They seem to often forget that the most important qualities of a teacher are to be consistent, caring, and confident.  When they see an inexperienced teacher try to use one of the techniques above (like calling a teacher “Sam” rather than “Mr. Robertson”) they link the two together: “The students call Mr. Robertson ‘Sam’; therefore, they don’t respect him.  This is why he has such a hard time controlling his class.”  There are very few experienced teachers, in my personal experience, who have thought to themselves, “Hmm, what if next year I let the students call me ‘Bob’, but I don’t change anything else.  I wonder what would happen?”  A more helpful attitude would be, “Hey, I have good classroom control.  I wonder if I could pull that off.  Maybe I should try it and see!”  Instead, it seems that sometimes more experienced teachers shy away from such ideas simply because they don’t want to be associated with something that only “the newbies” try. 

Sadly, what often seems to happen is that these more experienced teachers insult these newbies/youngsters, whether directly or indirectly.  From personal experience, I recall a coworker telling another teacher during my first year in the classroom that my classes were “out of control”.  I don’t recall anyone telling me, “Here, why don’t you try to do ‘x'”.  Instead, I’d witness my coworkers shaking their heads in dismay/frustration/disapproval/bewilderment/etc. after walking into my classroom.  Then, a few years later after I finally learned those lessons the hard way and was in charge of a team of teachers, those same teachers who scoffed at me as a newbie would treat me in a patronizing manner when I would try to encourage them to incorporate some “newer” techniques or pieces of technology.

I realize this may sound generalized because I’m speaking mostly from personal experience.  I’ve seen it happen to other teachers, too.  I’ve also witnessed teachers rolling their eyes or frowning when students call one of my current coworkers by his nickname (and this teacher has great classroom control and is certainly not new to the profession).  Chances are you’ve either experienced this yourself or know of someone who has. 

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but the point of my post is simply to call attention to these issues and to point out that, as always, teachers need to remain focused on their students.  Sometimes that calls for us to learn new things and step out of our comfort zone.  More experienced teachers have a lot to share with those that are new and should try to do so, rather than making an already tough job even harder and more stressful.  I’ve learned a lot of cool “life lessons” to share with my students from those teachers that are older and more experienced than myself.  At the same time, I’ve been able to help some of those same people out with technology, differentiation, and manipulatives. 

 If you’re in education, you likely have a love of learning.  Don’t forget that you can also learn from your coworkers–no matter how old or experienced they may be.

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