Opinion
Education Teacher Leaders Network

Where Honor is Due

By Renee Moore — June 25, 2007 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The end of the school year around the country has brought what seems to me a larger than usual number of teacher retirements. Although some of these departures will be greeted with cheers or sighs of relief, many more will generate great sadness as we lose some of the best resources available to us in the deprived enterprise of public education.

For some time now, I’ve also noticed too much disparaging of veteran teachers, as if they are a homogenous group of ineffective, rigid dinosaurs unwilling to change and unable to teach the new generation of students. Like many overgeneralizations, this one is dangerously wrong.

As part of a new partnership, teachermagazine.org is publishing this regular column by members of the Teacher Leaders Network, a professional community of accomplished educators dedicated to sharing ideas and expanding the influence of teachers.

During my time as lead teacher in a small, rural high school, one of my duties was to work individually with teachers to help bring them up-to-speed on operating computers and utilizing various software and web-based programs. The two teachers who picked those skills up quickest and applied them with the greatest creativity and enthusiasm both had over 30 years of experience in the classroom.

While I believe teachers should not be paid or assigned solely on the basis of seniority, I also believe in respecting the tremendous talents and experience accrued by accomplished teachers over their careers.

Much of what the research and policymaking communities are labeling as “innovative” or “best practice” in education today have been around before—long before. How do I know? I’ve spent many, many hours listening to and observing great veteran teachers.

Veteran teachers often have a huge store of knowledge, not only about teaching in general, but also about the communities in which they work and the workings of school systems. True, some of that knowledge might be encrusted in hard-earned cynicism, but when it is carefully mined, it can produce tangible yields for student learning and school effectiveness.

Unfortunately, as my colleagues at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching often point out, much of that experiential, field-tested knowledge leaves the profession with retirees, and new teachers find themselves having to go through unnecessary years of trial and error. Some of what we lose when our veterans retire we may never get back. We could do so much more to engage recent retirees with a track record of success in mentoring the young and passing down their wisdom to new generations.

When I started teaching, I was replacing a marvelous woman who had taught English in the same community for 40 years. In fact, it was she who conducted my interview (an hour-long question and answer session that, looking back, was amazingly similar to the assessment center portion of my National Board-certification process). I would not have been hired had she not given the principal her approval.

What was truly wonderful, however, was that at the start of the next school year, as I stood in my new, empty classroom wondering where to find everything, there was a knock at the door. It was her husband pushing a dolly stacked high with boxes. She had carefully packed all of her books, lesson plans, and other materials, and saved them from the pillagers over the summer, so I could have them. I still have (and use) some of those items today, and they are precious to me.

One of the most touching events of my extraordinary year as Mississippi’s Teacher of the Year in 2001 came after a speaking engagement when I was surrounded by a group of retired black teachers who were thrilled that I was going to be going to Washington and Los Angeles as one of the Milken award winners.

You may not be familiar with this wonderful old African-American tradition, but just like the old mothers at my church used to do when I was a child, the teachers gave me a handkerchief in which they had wrapped money for me to take on my trip. They held my hands for a long time and kept saying how proud they were.

It occurred to me that because of the social and political situations in which they had worked, they would never even have been considered for honors or awards. I referenced them and all the black veteran teachers of the segregation era whenever I spoke, particularly reminding new teachers of those who taught under conditions we could not imagine, and how most of them did it with grace and power.

Many of them were my teaching models. My first day of my first school year, a group of vets in my department took me in the teacher’s lounge, warmly welcomed me to the school, then proceeded with motherly sternness to explain to me how a black teacher should dress (and why it mattered to my students). They taught me how to become accepted in my new community; how not to give up on even the most resistant student; and why I should always respect janitors and secretaries.

They showed me how to teach and why.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP