Why We Need Veteran TeachersApr 25, 2022
When I was a student-teacher, I had no idea how hard it can to quiet a room of 30 students. I’ll never forget the first time my mentoring teacher let me teach the class for the first time. I was feeling confident and ready to finally show my teaching acumen. I mean, I did just go through two years of the teaching program in college, how hard could it be?
So when all of the students came in the room and took their seats, they chatted with each other as I moved to the front of the room. I said nice and loud, "Alright everyone, we’re gonna get started."
But they kept talking. So I said a little louder, "Alright, let’s get started." While a few students stopped talking, most didn't even look up at me. So finally I yelled over the roar, "I need you to be quiet now!"
Again, little-to-no effect.
It didn’t matter how loud I was, they couldn’t hear me, or didn’t want to hear me. I turned to my mentoring teacher, Mrs. Steelman, who was in her 40th year in the classroom, and desperately pleaded for help. I detected a twinge of a smile on her lips as she got up from her seat, calmly walked to the front of the room, and just stood there and looked at the class, not saying a word. Immediately a kid in the front row saw her, turned around and told his friend to shut up. And then another kid starts shushing, and then it was like the whole room was shushing each other. In about five seconds the class was silent.
Mrs. Steelman turns to me and says, "It’s all you Mr. Muir," and I took her place and we went on with class.
Learning from veteran teachers.
Afterwards I asked her how she did that? What is this strange magic you possess? And she just told me that the sometimes the best way to get kids’ attention is just to look at them, maybe say, “I’ll wait,” and they will do all the work for you. And as a brand new teacher, as a student-teacher, my mind was blown. I’ve been using that technique ever since.
This was the first of many encounters where I learned the immeasurable value of lessons and wisdom from veteran teachers. The teacher preparation program in college was great, and so are all the books I've read on pedagogy and classroom management, but the best wisdom can only come from experience. All teachers, but especially young ones, need to take advantage of the collective wisdom in their schools.
Embracing the wisdom and experience of veteran teachers.
Teachers need to continually ask questions, seek out help, observe other teachers’ classes, and act as sponges to the knowledge and wisdom of seasoned educators. We need to make it a priority to learn from the experts around us. This is an essential part of the teacher-journey, and is not just one that is relevant to new teachers. Learning from peers, especially ones with experience, should be a lifelong practice.
Every time I visit Mrs. Steelman's classroom, I feel like she’s trying something new. Whether it's a new discussion technique or something she learned about classroom management from a teacher down the hall, she is always improving her practice. You have to be humble to do that, and recognize there is always room to improve. And improvement often relies on learning from others.
Veteran teachers need to be willing to be mentors.
Experienced, veteran teachers have to be willing to be mentors. Invite younger teachers into your classrooms, schedule regular check-ins with them, give out your phone number, offer your wisdom to the next generation of educators. Perhaps do as Mrs. Steelman does and allow student-teachers into your classroom.
Start teaching new teachers.
Teaching is a team sport, and the team is so much better when we work together and share our gifts. And if you've been in the classroom for a while, chances are you have many gifts to share.
What young and old(er) teachers need to do.
To sum it up: new teachers, keep asking for help; seek wisdom from those who came before you. Seasoned teachers, be willing to give it. The impact you'll have on those you serve, the younger teachers and their students, can impact beyond what you can imagine.
And Mrs. Steelman, thanks for everything. Let’s grab lunch soon.
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