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First Person

Old Enough to Teach

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My favorite teacher was my high school English teacher. She was as hip and cool as she could be for an “old person.” It was fun just being in her classroom. Quirky and eccentric, she had an extensive collection of “Got Milk” and “Absolut Vodka” ads that was sure to raise eyebrows. We completed some of the most interesting projects in her class, including the time she had us explain the classic novel Siddhartha by finding similar themes in popular music. She was the one teacher I could relate to, but I wonder if her colleagues saw her as young and inexperienced. This was a concept I could never have understood until I became a teacher this winter, five years after being in her class.

I began my first full-time teaching job on January 22, 2007, two months shy of my 23rd birthday. I had just graduated with a B.A. in education and a great thirst to change the world. I thought I could enter my teaching career before the ink was dry on my diploma and that I would be applauded for my drive. I quickly found out this would not be the case. On a college campus, being over 21 is considered old and wise. When I hit the teaching profession, however, I heard a different tune. At 23, I was still a kid.

No one wants to take a 20-something teacher seriously when she acts her age. While my elementary students appreciate my age, my colleagues don’t. My pigtails and flip-flops don’t fit into this new world. Just when I was sure that I could be myself and my students could relate to me, I was shot down.

In college, no one warned me about this parallel universe. No one told me that I would spend the first months of my teaching career defending myself. I felt like everything I was doing from lesson plans to grading was held under a microscope with someone waiting for me to make a mistake. I discovered I would have to work twice as hard as others on my team to be seen as competent. I began coming in early and staying late to prove that I, too, could join the ranks of “Super Teachers.” I worked extra hard on my lessons and tried my best to be at every parent function so that my commitment could never be questioned. Nevertheless, parents seemed apprehensive to leave their children in my care. Teachers seemed annoyed by my ever-present enthusiasm. I was even told by one of our secretaries that she owned undergarments older than I was.

Walking into my classroom puts a smile on my face. I don’t have much (a shelf of books and 6 posters), but my room does not feel empty. Some walls are dedicated to sports teams, carefully picked by my students; others are covered with students’ artwork. We have a small area with free movie posters that I snagged from the local grocery store. (I was once told that my classroom resembled a college dorm room, which I mistakenly took as a compliment.) I let the kids have free reign of the classroom climate. I listen to the same music, shop at the same clothing stores, and watch the same shows and movies as my students, but this doesn’t always go over well. Don’t get me wrong, I go in everyday and try to do the best job I can, but I don’t see why school can’t be fun.

I often think some people feel I have been given a chance I do not deserve, but I would ask those of you who doubt younger teachers to remember the joy you felt when the district called to say you were hired. Remember when you thought that your paycheck was a huge amount of money. Remember how much fun you had at first, how you loved doing things that pushed the envelope just enough to feel rebellious, yet still stay within those district mandated parameters. Remember how it felt to be young and innocent.

Generation Y is growing up. We want to influence the world like generations before us did. We are transitioning into the “adult world” and we need to be heard. We are full of knowledge and desperately trying to make an impact. We should not be discouraged.

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