In Defense of Old School Teachers

It was in about my fifth year teaching when I met the Master. He was a teacher who taught at a nearby school and he was considered to be the don of Chemistry teachers. He had seemingly taught  forever and frankly, I was intimidated. The Master was in his last year teaching. Retirement was only months away and I wondered what he would be like. I had taught around a few other teachers approaching retirement and all of them had checked out. They were coasting along and counting the days until the end.

Not the Master. During our professional development day he was engaged and focused. During our brief lunch he pulled out papers to grade and I noticed how carefully he gave quality feedback to his students. More impressive to me was the fact that he asked me about my classes. As I explained some of my struggles, he gave concrete advice born of years of excellence in his classroom. My strongest thought was: “I want to be like the Master when I retire.” He continued to pursue excellence, always put students first, and was willing to help out this young teacher.

Last week on twitter, I heard some folks talking about how to change #oldschool teachers. The assumption was that #oldschool teachers are dinosaurs and need to change.This raised my hackles as I remembered the Master. I remembered him and felt that if we dismiss them we are losing great opportunities to learn and grow. My twitter response is below. Out of respect for the Master, I wrote:



Teachers like this who never gave up on teaching and gave their best until the end must be celebrated and not dismissed.

You see there is a difference between a teacher who has taught for thirty years and a teacher who has taught one year thirty times. Some of the best stories of flipped teachers come from older teachers who have the mindset of the Master. They are always looking for what is best for students and are willing to change regardless of how uncomfortable or difficult the change will be. And the true masters are those who are willing to share their journeys with others and nurture and support. Hear me carefully:  I advocate for change. Our industrial era model needs significant change and we teachers need to lead the way.

But instead of lumping all of the #oldschool teachers into one lot and dismissing them, instead we should learn from them: Their wealth of experience, their insight, their understanding of kids, their deep knowledge of subject matter, and their passion for students. My guess is that they will feel honored as we honor them with our respect and listen to them with open minds.

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