A flipped learning guru from the west coast recently visited my school for an afternoon professional development session. He started his presentation by remarking about how impressed he was during his walk around our school building because "the faculty is young and vibrant. It's such a breath of fresh air." Excuse me? I may be 55 years old, but I still consider myself pretty damn vibrant.
That wasn't the first time someone implied that veteran teachers are not as valuable as young teachers. A reporter from the Boston Globe wrote an op-ed piece about my high school in which he attributed part of our success to the fact that "Traditional pecking orders were scuttled. Skills trumped seniority." Now, perhaps I'm being oversensitive, but I'm an English teacher -- and that quote implies that because I have seniority, I don't have skills. Instead of being happy about an article that celebrated my school's success, my fellow veteran teachers and I were incensed.
A recent Facebook posting by a friend in California also raised my ire. He was applauding his state's decision to do away with teacher tenure, writing: "Now we can advance younger, tech-savvy, good teachers." But technological ability isn't exclusively a domain of the young . In fact, my veteran colleagues and I have become quite proficient using technology. It's a necessary skill for helping our students learn 21st-century skills. Technological expertise is just one tool in an expansive toolkit of strategies and pedagogical approaches that veteran teachers use to reach students.
What I want to know is: when did my age and length of teaching experience become the defining factor in my ability to teach? Just because I taught your mom doesn't mean that I can't connect with my 16-year-old students and engage them in exciting and effective ways. What happened to tapping into the expertise and experience of veteran teachers?
Instead of denigrating veteran teachers, let's keep the focus on mentoring -- both traditional and reverse -- to create a collegial and mutually respectful environment where teachers collaborate in order to advance student learning.
It's true that younger teachers often possess a different skill set than veteran teachers. It's also true that most younger teachers are adept at using numerous software programs for instruction, assessment, and data collection. But technological proficiency is a transferable skill. You don't have to be a "digital native" to negotiate the terrain.
I'm a National Board Certified Teacher, and I've been mentoring new teachers for over 13 years. I enjoy welcoming new teachers to the profession, helping them build content strength, and assisting them with everything from classroom management to communicating with parents. But I also appreciate the relationship building that takes place with reverse mentoring; I have always been open and excited about learning from new teachers.
For teachers like me who have no desire to enter administration and who want to stay in the classroom, reverse mentoring is absolutely essential. My current Director was once a student in my sophomore English class. Many of my former mentees are now experts in flipped learning and using iPads in the classroom. I frequently turn to them for assistance and new ideas -- which is essential for continuing to improve and refine my practice.
Schools need to recognize the importance of reverse mentoring. Administrators should support cross-functional teams, such as professional learning groups, in which both veteran and novice practitioners share their knowledge and expertise.
Veteran teachers are not dinosaurs. We have mastered technology. We can still engage our students as well as any young teacher. The bottom line is that we need to encourage both traditional and reverse mentoring between veteran and young teachers because both can learn a great deal from one another. So rather than creating a schism that pits veteran teachers against new teachers, let's work together to create flexible, collaborative school cultures that allow for the sharing of ideas, knowledge, and expertise. I've got at least ten more years in the classroom -- so let's grow and work together for the benefit of all students and teachers.
Nancy Barile (@nancybarile), a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught English language arts at Revere High School in Revere, MA, for 19 years. She advises the Culture Club and Future Teachers Club and is an adjunct professor at Emmanuel College. A CTQ Collaboratory member, Nancy won The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award in 2013 and serves on the College Board New England Regional Council.