Monday, August 8, 2016


A couple of weeks ago I attended an incredibly motivational conference on innovative teaching and educational technology (Leyden Innovative Teaching and Learning Symposium). Not only were there high quality keynote speakers and presenters (such as Josh Stumpenhorst and Jaime Casap), but it was also limited to a maximum of 425 participants, so none of the breakout sessions was ever overcrowded. I highly recommend this conference -- it is well worth three days out of your summer vacation!

But one thing happened there that for some reason has stuck with me -- and kind of left me scratching my head. On the last day of the symposium, the keynote speaker did one of those quick little audience surveys to find out how long people had been teaching. She started out asking for first year teachers to raise their hands. If I remember correctly, there was no one who raised their hand. Then she asked for anyone who had been teaching 1 - 5 years, and there were a few hands. Then she asked for 5 - 10 years; there were a few more hands. Then 10 - 20 years, a nice number of people raised their hands. The she asked for 20 - 30 years; there were lots of hands for that group, including mine. And then something really weird happened. The people in the auditorium broke into spontaneous applause. When the speaker then asked for people who had been teaching for more than 30 years to raise their hands (and there were a few), there was more applause. Being part of a group of the receiving end of spontaneous applause like that was humbling but weird. Every day, I go to work and do my job -- and I'm not denying that it can be hard, arduous, draining work -- but I get to work with great teachers and fun students, so my time at work really is enjoyable. Having fun seems unworthy of applause. But then when I started to think of what it takes to be a teacher for more than a quarter century, I guess I can see why people would celebrate that. There is a constant state of flux in education, and to be quite honest, being a teacher doesn't always generate a whole lot of respect and admiration. So I guess I'll just be humbled and grateful that someone out there actually thinks that what I do and have done for so many years deserves a moment of applause.

But after the applause was all done and the speaker got back to her presentation, I had a thought that baffled me a bit. I realized that here, at this three day conference on innovating education, learning how to change up the way teaching and learning happens in the classroom, there were many more of the "older" teachers than the "younger" teachers. And I wondered why that was. After all, it is so often the "older" teachers who get the bad rap -- they're the ones who are stuck in their old ways of doing things; they're the ones who don't want to change. At least that's what the prevailing attitude seems to be so often. The veteran teachers are stuck in the past, the jaded ones. The fresh-faced college kids are the eager ones, the innovative ones, the hope for the future. Yet at a conference devoted fully to significantly changing the way education looks, there sure weren't very many of those fresh-faced innovators.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not naive. I know that there are PLENTY of veteran teachers who are sitting around on their tenured butts whining about "kids these days" and still using the same tests they were using 5 or 10 years ago. I also know that there are plenty of teachers out there who are new to the job and eager to change the world. But this conference isn't the first time I've run into this. A few years ago, I attended a two day workshop on grading practices presented by Rick Wormeli. My colleague and I were seated at a table with another 5 or 6 teachers from a different district. They all looked pretty young -- barely pushing 30 -- so I'm guessing they hadn't been teaching more than 5 - 7 years max. And THEY were the ones bucking everything Rick Wormeli said. THEY were the ones complaining that this was stupid and there was no need to change anything. But there sat my colleague and I -- with our years in the classroom being more than double of those young teachers -- and we were digging what Wormeli was saying.

I don't know why there is this weird divide, or if it really exists. But it sure feels like it.

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