By Marion Reader, Infant-Toddler Classroom Teacher
The education field is full of a diverse community of educators. Teachers from all different backgrounds who hold all different identities and have come together to work with youth in our communities. That being said, I find it particularly interesting to be a young educator. Oftentimes young educators are not seen as equal as their peers who have been in the field longer. We tend to trust in our teachers who have been teaching for 20-plus years and let younger teachers know that when they reach that “level” that will garner the same amount of respect. This then leads us to an interesting dichotomy where we do not expect young teachers to be as experienced/qualified/nuanced as older teachers but when we meet or work alongside young teachers who are, in fact, great at their jobs and/or hold qualifications that support them as educators, we are surprised and often taken-aback.
I say this as a 22 year-old early childhood teacher who has been in the education field for eight years, and early childhood for five. I have never had a job outside of teaching and I focused one of my majors in undergrad around young children. Many times I have been at the receiving end of some age-stereotyping (good and bad) in my field. Many times I have seen other young educators experience similar frustrations. We are simultaneously expected to be better and worse than our older teaching peers. We are supposed to be better so we can show that young people can also teach and that we are working so hard to prove ourselves, but we are also expected to be worse because, well, how could a 22 year-old hold with five years of ECE experience hold a candle to a 42 year-old with twenty years of experience? These dichotomies have the potential to make a workplace frustrating for all teachers due to the inconsistent pressures it places on the social aspects of teaching and what it takes away from actual classroom and planning energy and time.
So, how can we combat ageism in the educational field? First, we must look to our students. As educators we know that three students of the same age can have vastly different abilities and interests in vastly different arenas. So, let’s apply this to educators as well. One 25 year-old teacher may be in the field because it was, simply, the job that they found. They may be good at their job, but have a passion or interest elsewhere that may be more fulfilling and successful for them. Another 25 year-old teacher may have dedicated their whole life teaching. They may be deeply passionate and excellent in their position. And yet another 25 year-old teacher may not be great at teaching. They may be trying it out and find out it’s not for them. Each of these educators has valuable insight into the world of education and teaching regardless of if they end up teaching for thirty years or three months. We know that our students can offer us insight and reflection into subjects regardless of their ability or experience with a subject, so, we should afford this same grace to educators and focus more on supporting them in developing their teaching skills, pushing themselves to grow, or finding a place in education that is the right fit.
Secondly, we must realize that pedagogy training is always changing. As each new generation enters school, professional development, and gains experience, they are offered more information and more strategies than those before them. Emerging theories for those learning about education twenty years ago are now more fully formed and taught differently. This means that younger teachers may have different access to educational practices than their older peers. Both of these experiences are equally valid and allow a diverse array of teaching strategies to support a diverse array of students. Younger educators bring new and changing perspectives to education, to support them in relation to older educators we must appreciate and recognize the unique frameworks to which they bring educational communities.
We must also make teaching spaces equitable, meaning that all teachers have the amount of teaching space and time available to them that is required of their teaching styles and needs. When we take into account the differences in needs and approaches and allow teachers to lean into their own practices, we create much needed space for all teachers to feel they have agency and respect within the classroom. This allows younger professionals to integrate into the classroom and school atmosphere in a way in which all educators feel as though they have power and agency in their work.
Finally, we must recognize that, antithetical to mainstream rhetoric about experience, more work in the field does not always make you better at your job. Many folks float through professions for years at a time without intentional growth due to a variety of reasons while others find one profession and latch onto it for their entire career. This means that our seasoned educators do not automatically have an upper hand because of their experience and also that our younger educators are not necessarily worse at teaching. If we remove ourselves from the experience-equals-quality thinking, we open ourselves to be more accepting and intentional about learning from one another and creating equitable teaching spaces.
I feel very privileged to be working at a school that has such a large proportion of young educators. Many times in my life I’ve been the youngest educator by at least ten years. Because we have so many amazing young people on their teaching teams, we have the power to begin to combat ageism within other educational spaces. Many of these things are already happening at UCDS, and, if we continue to put them in the framework of respecting and empowering all educators, we can set a model for new and old educators in the field.