Dear Experienced Teacher:
We know it’s important to pay attention to and support the men and women joining our faculties for the first time, and we always have lots of good advice for them.
But sometimes we know that the experienced teachers in our midst are overlooked or taken for granted. We casually accept one another’s quiet, competent work and maybe even quiet struggles. It’s easy for school communities to grow almost too comfortable with colleagues whose daily behaviors are familiar and whose work (we assume) goes smoothly and attracts little untoward notice.
Of course it’s not always that way for any of us, veteran or new, and it’s worth reminding ourselves that there are always things we can do to make our own work more effective and our own lives more satisfying. We have stayed with this profession, sometimes through thick and thin, because we believe in kids and love things about our work—and because we believe in the old promise and old premise that teachers can make the world a better place.
With summer waning and the coming year gradually transforming from a puzzling mental abstraction into a concrete set of tasks, challenges, and opportunities, I have been trying to riffle through the pages of my own career and my understanding of some of the issues facing schools and teachers in this time of pandemic and war. My goal is to remind myself of things that we as educators can do—that we all can do—to make the year go well. Here’s my short list:
We need to be faculty communities characterized by a rich flow and exchange of ideas and opinions—and by mutual respect. We need to be faculties in which castes and layers, based on seniority, who teaches what, who lives in what dorm, or who has whose ear, are gone, gone, gone. In 1968, when I was a senior in an independent school and Peter Prescott was working on A World of Our Own, faculty room stratification, posturing, and politics hadn’t much changed since Owen Johnson’s Lawrenceville Stories of more than a century ago (and at least those tales were funny). But it’s decades later, and we have to recognize that each of us has something valuable to learn about our craft and our calling from each of our colleagues, no matter how young and how “inexperienced.”
David Mallery called us veteran teachers “experienced pros,” and we can support our schools, our colleagues, and our students best by reflecting on and appreciating fully for ourselves what we have to offer; and then we have to make a point of offering it. We’re doing good work, and it can be a very good life; happily we share today’s “world of our own” ever so much more widely and joyfully than was done a half-century ago.
We honor our profession, our schools, and our students by our determination to do our best, and we give full meaning to our lives by our resolution to keep making the kinds of difference that we idealized when we entered this profession in the first place.
Savor the last weeks of summer, and have the best year ever.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)