Saturday, July 23, 2011

The wisdom of experience

I've been having a few talks with friends about the difficulties of getting a job now that I have my credential. Although I have had a few interviews, someone else (younger) seems to get the job each time. I have been charitable and figured that the younger person is probably more qualified than I am. Perhaps she majored in a subject that I have "only" learned through enormous amounts of reading, discussion, email exchanges and a few courses. Perhaps she has more science teaching experience. Perhaps she has actual science laboratory work experience. I can't beat that.

But recently one of my young fellow students got a job for which I felt I was the more qualified. I was teaching the subjects this last spring to students very much like the ones at this particular school, and had selected the same chemistry book that is being used there. I read incessantly about science pedagogy and love going to professional development courses.

As I was teaching this spring, I tentatively introduced the "when I was your age, we didn't have calculators/ computers/ know about DNA..." comment to see how the kids reacted. It turns out they loved it. They also loved that I could be teaching and suddenly come up with some example from my past that just fit the topic perfectly. I have close to 50 years of life experience more than my young fellow students that has not been spent knitting (at least not most of the time.) I taught, I started an environmentally based business, using a lot of chemistry, was a technical writer, learning how to explain things clearly. In fact, most of my career has been about motivating people (to learn German grammar, to treat our world respectfully and sustainably, to use some piece of software efficiently...) Some of my other older new-teacher friends have been engineers, lawyers, economists, business owners - all with fantastic stories to tell.

In the really old days, the elder members of a tribe were called upon as teachers of the young, because people recognized their wisdom. Elderly people in some cultures were revered greatly for their wisdom. In others they were considered doddering fools - maybe because they couldn't hear well, or see well, so they couldn't hear the question properly, or negotiate their surroundings agilely - or maybe they were senile (although I doubt they got old enough for Alzheimer's back then, although they might have gotten mercury or lead or antimony poisoning.)

People my age are often of good health and mind, and they aren't going to take time off to have babies or have to pick up a sick child from school. They may have older parents who need some help, or a spouse who needs surgery. But my spouse cooks all the meals when I'm working!

I've been told about a principal who said that he didn't think an "old fogeys" (like me) would hang around very long - like more than 5 years. Statistics show that young people, unfortunately don't either. I figure I'll teach until I don't like it any more, or until my health deteriorates. Who knows how long that will be. (I sure don't like the idea of sitting around knitting and reading books the rest of my life!) Another told a colleague that she was not going to hire any more baby-boomers (for some unknown reason.)

Of course there are a lot of teachers even younger than I am who no longer enjoy teaching and do not renew their skills and content knowledge. Some of them aren't very far out of college, in fact.

I was enticed to teach by an organization called EnCorps Teachers, who are recruiting experienced people to teach science, math and engineering. I have spent 2 1/2 years studying and practicing to become a good teacher, and run up a bill of close to $60,000 at a private school of education. I'm not quitting any time soon! And neither are my other older fellow students. We have a lot to share and we enjoy kids. We want to give a little back.

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