One of my pet peeves, since I have entered the education profession, is encountering “more experienced” and veteran teachers who immediately nay-say new ideas or suggestions by younger teachers who are just entering the field. I’ve run out of fingers and toes to keep track of the many times I have been called an “idealist” by other teachers when I tried to introduce new teaching methods, classroom management techniques, or even more student-centered pedagogies during my practicums and student teaching. “Oh, honey, that won’t work,” I’ve been told. When asked why not, the answer was: “You haven’t experienced [insert situation] yet, have you?”
A certain response during this afternoon’s #edchat quickly brought that negative learning experience back to mind today. It was what I felt was a somewhat condescending remark to what I thought was an honest and helpful suggestion. I tried to shake it off, but it kept nagging me as the day wore on. It obviously bothered me strongly enough that I felt the need to jump online and blog my thoughts right after my night class! What exactly does experience have to do with it? Do I have to be experienced to try to improve a classroom situation? Do I need to experience everything in a classroom before I can make a judgment call or a decision? Do I need years of experience before I can be considered a good teacher?
Let me clarify: I have nothing against older and more experienced teachers at all. I adore my cooperative teachers and supervisor, and look up to many of my Twitter PLN mentors. I love working with my older colleagues and professors in my graduate classes. They provide me with constructive feedback, support, and multiple resources that I need to succeed. However, just because I am not currently employed or teaching in a classroom does not mean that my thoughts and efforts should be discredited. I may not have experienced some of these common frustrations with the student body, or administration, or school community, but this lack of experience does not mean that I come to the table empty-handed.
Sure, maybe I am idealistic when it comes to some of my teaching beliefs and methods but honestly, what’s wrong with that? Does idealism have to equal inexperience? I think back to my student teaching experience and recall a specific instance in which my cooperative teacher allowed me to “free-fall”. Having over twenty years of experience, she knew instantly that one of my planned activities was going to bomb. She fought the urge to tell me that it wouldn’t work and allowed me to go through the process. The student response was not what I expected, and I definitely sweated buckets as I tried to save my dignity and the lesson, but I learned from that experience. My cooperative teacher didn’t discourage me, or shake her head at my efforts. Instead, she supported me by giving me that chance to experience and learn from the situation for myself.
It’s a conundrum that many teenagers and graduates looking for jobs like to point out: “How do you expect me to have experience if you don’t give me the opportunity to gain that experience in the first place?” Yes, there are many factors, both positive and negative, in play when it comes to education. No doubt that the length of time spent teaching equals more exposure to those factors. More exposure, most especially to the negative factors, can lead to erosion and feelings of frustration, even cynicism, over time. This is exactly where I think new teachers can come in and help with their “idealistic” ways.
Please don’t derogate me for my bright-eyed beliefs and lack of inexperience. Don’t shake your head at me, or cut me down with negative remarks just because it didn’t work for you. Don’t tell me to grow up and be more realistic! Help me, support me, build me up like you do with your students in your classroom. Share your experience with me instead.
Flickr Image (“Student and Teacher”) by Wonderlane