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A first year teacher in defense of veteran teachers

As a first year teacher who got her teaching license through an alternative program (not TFA, although similar in some ways), I often feel like I walk through the hallways of my school marked with a scarlet letter.

In confrontational articles in countless media outlets, including this one, the media has marked “us” (new alternative teachers) as “different,” “reformers,” and “status quo changers,” who will embrace the innovations of the day, transform our schools, and “fix” education once and for all. But this is not at all the reality I see every day at my school.

There are a small handful of veteran teachers who are simply in it for the pension, the job security, or the benefits. But the vast majority of veteran teachers I know are here for the exact same reason I am: because they want to make a positive impact for students. They are also doing the same thing I am: the best job they can with whatever resources they are provided with or can beg for, borrow, or “steal.” And for the most part, the veteran teachers at my school are equally willing to embrace innovation and change as long as it helps them help students. What I am trying to say is we are in this together. We agree about far more than we disagree about. If we do not realize this soon, and start really working together as a unified force, the infighting will cause irreparable harm.

This message that “we” (call us what you will: Millennials, TFAers, New Majority, or just first year teachers) must rescue “them” (experienced, dedicated professionals) from the disaster that is public education is false, and it is harming education by creating divisions and distrust. I (and all my fellow new teachers) desperately need more experienced teachers to show us the ropes, call us out on our hubris, and just offer words of sympathy and advice. This is not some antiquated, dysfunctional aspect of public education; it is how all professions work. And many other professions manage to promote change and innovation without pitting new hires against old hands. We can too.

In the end, we are still doing the same things we have always been doing in education. We may have more data available to us, but we still have to decide whether it is valid and make complex, subjective decisions based on it. We may have more technology, but we still have to make sure we use that technology in ways that will benefit students and be fiscally responsible. We may be moving from a step-based salary to a merit-based salary system, but we still have to implement it in ways that are fair and ensure teachers have due process.

It is veteran teachers who will help the education system to make these decisions because they are the ones with the background and insight to predict and prevent the inevitable problems and challenges that always come with implementing changes. First year teachers do not have the necessary knowledge, and let’s face it, we’re barely keeping our heads above water most days anyway.  So, rather than preventing or delaying innovation, veteran teachers will be the ones to ensure innovations are implemented successfully.

I feel honored to be part of a team of dedicated, smart, passionate, capable teachers at Samuels, all of whom have been teaching longer than me. I hope that I will be able to contribute new ideas and insights to this team in the years to come. But I also hope that I will have the wisdom and humility to listen to my more experienced colleagues.

I know that if I fail to listen and learn from them, I may discover in ten years that I have just been reinventing the wheel this entire time and have failed to create anything new or innovative. And if the media continue fomenting divisions between new and veteran teachers, causing disagreements, distrust, and a lack of collaboration, we as a country may discover in ten years that we have all been reinventing the wheel. Meanwhile, an entire generation of students will have come and gone.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.