I was walking out of school the other day with my colleague Emily, and as we passed a newer teacher, I said, “Man, everybody seems so young around here these days.” She laughed ruefully and said, “Yup. We’re the Old Guard now.”
When I started teaching, “Old Guard” meant the teachers who had been there long enough to have it all figured out. They were the ones who made the decisions while the rest of us followed their lead.
I certainly don’t have everything all figured out, and I’m not really comfortable with this whole “getting older” thing, so here are a few ways I’m trying to hang with the newbies:
1. Learn with (and from) Younger Teachers
One of the things I love most about my colleagues is our teacher-led book studies.
Right now we are doing a study on The Teenage Brain, and at our last meeting, one of my favorite parts was hearing from Kaitlyn, a second-year Spanish teacher. She described how she’s slowing down her instruction so that she gives her students time to process.
I know kids need processing time. I’ve heard about wait time for years. But listening to her describe how it was working in her classroom was the reminder I needed. The next day, I could hear her voice in my head as I was rushing through a class discussion. Slow down, give them time to process. I did. And it worked.
2. Let Younger Teachers Take the Reigns
I’m a bit bossy (bit is not the right word at all). I like to lead. So, naturally, when two new teachers started teaching AP Language with me, I was quick to tell them how we do things.
We were clipping right along when Gina started offering suggestions. Maybe we should change the order of how we introduce the writing tasks, she suggested. Insert horrified face from Hattie. What we’re doing is working so well, I thought. But–her reasoning was sound. Her idea was a good one. We tried it, and I’m happy to report that she was right. It wasn’t easy for me to give up what I knew had always worked, but it was good to push myself to try a different approach that might be better.
3. Listen to Their Questions
I’m lucky to be part of an awesome group of AP Lang teachers who share ideas on Voxer, a messaging app. This year an experienced AP Lit teacher who is teaching Lang for the first time joined our group.
A few weeks ago, she asked how we explain exigence to our students. Her followup questions, and the discussion she sparked, made me realize I’ve been explaining it poorly for awhile. It helped me think about why I was doing what I was doing, and pushed me to think about teaching it from a new angle.
Others’ questions, then, help me think about why I do what I do, which in turn helps me rethink my teaching.
Younger Teachers Keep us Fresh
It’s easy to settle into a professional identity based on experience. But pushing myself to connect with newer teachers is a way to keep myself fresh.
Don’t worry–I won’t go too far. I’m still good for teasing the pesky millennial history teacher for his strange hipster ways. But after I run him over with my walker, I might just pick his brain a little, too.
Hattie Maguire (@teacherhattie) hit a milestone in her career this year: she realized she’s been teaching longer than her students have been alive (17 years!). She is spending that 17th year at Novi High School, teaching AP English Language and AP Seminar for half of her day, and spending the other half working as an MTSS literacy student support coach. When she’s not at school, she spends her time trying to wrangle the special people in her life: her 8-year-old son, who recently channeled Ponyboy in his school picture by rolling up his sleeves and flexing; her 5-year-old daughter, who has discovered the word apparently and uses it to provide biting commentary on the world around her; and her 40-year-old husband, whom she holds responsible for the other two.