August 14, 2013
Do We Value Experience?
It's no secret that our culture values youth. We value innovation over sustainability and fresh ideas over experience. From the products we buy to the celebrities we celebrate, we deify youth. Look younger. Feel younger. Avoid getting old.
But is that also true of the education profession?
I've seen this on a very local level. Veterans on staff are viewed as curmudgeonly. If they criticize the system, they're being cynical (as opposed to a young teacher, who is simply being "young and idealistic"). People make huge assumptions about them. They will be slow to adopt new strategies. They will be reluctant to new technology (in many cases they were the pioneers in educational technology, knowing computers on a deeper level than my generation).
Consider the lists of Teacher of the Year. In most cases, they are within the first three years of their careers. On some level, this makes sense. New teachers often have additional time to spare. But it's not just that. The Teacher of the Year lists often place a high value on novelty. What is this teacher doing differently? They want a fresh face.
People often miss that it takes years to refine the craft of teaching. True, some people "get it" at a younger age or in an early stage of their career. It's also true that age won't lead to wisdom. However, it takes experience to refine our craft. If I'm as good in my first year of teaching as I am in my twentieth, I'm doing something wrong.
I know that I'm oversimplifying it. The truth is that many young teachers feel stifled by veterans. In many schools, the way it's always been done is valued above the new ideas of new teachers. However, in my own experience, I've watched agism push away amazing veteran teachers. They've been marginalized and viewed as irrelevant and rusty rather than wise and experienced.
I think it speaks to a value system that places innovation above sustainability and a blank canvas over experience. It speaks to an unspoken cultural value that younger is better.