YOUNG TEACHERS WITH YOUNG STUDENTS
Thank you Matthew McKinney for inspiring me to think about this particular topic. You mentioned the importance of being sensitive to older students as a young teacher (which happens to me my case).
I would like to raise a similar point which involves young teachers teaching young students. I started teaching at the earliest possible legal age of 21. I was teaching secondary students who ranged in age from 15 to 19. Obviously, this was a bit awkward. On several occasions I had the guys inviting me to keg parties and the girls flirting with me. Furthermore, being 21 and still in college, sometimes I might be seen in public after a party in not-so-good condition. And you can only imagine the concerns that the parents had.
So how do young teachers handle young learners? I found it to be very difficult, not only because of the age similarity, but also since it was my first year as a teacher. I felt the need to be an authority figure; I accomplished this by dumping tons of time into my lesson planning, thus making very authentic- and credible-looking lessons. I also tried to act more mature than I actually was, which turned out to be a failed tactic.
In the end the strategy that worked best for me was to simply identify with the students. I was careful not to get to close with them, but at the same time, I let myself come down to their level to a certain extent. Most of them eventually started to see me more as an older-brother type of role model instead of a formal instructor. They thought, "Wow, if I study hard and focus, I can be in *COLLEGE* just like him in only three years!"
Then there were the hecklers. "Hey, Mr. Richter, how old are you anyway?" I would calmly answer, "I'm older than fifteen and younger than thirty-five." That usually answered the question. Then they would ask, "Hey, Mr. R., do you have a GIRLFRIEND?" And I would calmly respond, "Maybe yes, maybe no." And that usually answered their question. The only really awkward question that got me was from a homosexual student who once openly hit on me in front of the entire class. That was a tough one! So the message here is that, as a proactive teacher, one can anticipate some of the likely questions that may come from students. In this sense you can think ahead about how you might handle the answers, thus poising yourself for a clam response instead of an embarrassing blunder.
I'm now 29 years of age and still teaching. I currently have a wide age range of students and no longer see age as a factor in terms of my comfort level in teaching.
Thank you for sharing your perspective on being a young teacher just starting out. I was hired in to replace a teacher that had to leave due to illness. I was 20 years old and student teaching when the vacancy occurred. I was student teaching in the in the high school from which I had graduated three years previous. Talk about being close to the same age as your students! They asked me to stay on after my student teaching and complete the year. I did because I could live at home and earn some badly needed income. This was a small farming community and my two sisters were still in high school there. I knew everybody and they knew me. It worked out fine but I was seen as my father's son rather than a professional educator. Which is very common in settings like this. I completed the year and was able to help my school out since they needed a teacher to fill in while gaining much experience as a teacher. I then moved to a large metro school district in another state. This is where I was able to find out if I was going to be a teacher or not. Thirty plus years later I can say both the small town local setting and the metro large city setting helped me to become a teacher that has enjoyed being a teacher all these years.
I too am younger than many of my students.
I actually enjoy it, and as discussed, can really add a lot to the class!
I agree being a young teacher with the youth today and being able to relate to the youth and the new challenges that come with understanding and relating to them has its rewardsâ€”the biggest challenge for me to overcome was teaching classrooms with diverse ages especially adults 30+ years older than me
I agree with Karen. I found that being a young teach brings rewards and challenges. All my younger teacher have a better rapport with the students. Students feel open to tell them everything. However, on the flip side the older students donâ€™t share as much. As the director of the program, the older student gravitate to me. In that since we bring balance
I have found a similar problem with a different age group. I am 30, and I am teaching adult learners. Many of my students are older than I am.
I have found that many of my older (than I) students are a bit skeptical of my ability to teach when they begin a class. To compensate for this, I try to focus on my within-field experience and the success of my previous students.
My comfort level has gone up, and newer students, who have heard about me through previous students, don't seem to even notice the age issue now. It has become a non-issue.
Thanks for sharing your story. Through your expertise, confidence and competence you have demonstrated that you are very capable as an instructor. As a result as you say age has become a non-issue. I commend you for your abilities as an instructor and I wish you much teaching success.
I also find myself in that situation where I am only a bit older that moat of my students and younger than a few. I find it is an asset that has helped me to gain their trust and respect. Always making sure they understand that I am their teacher first and foremost.
Glad to hear that you are comfortable working students that are within your age range as well as those that are older. It demonstrates your confidence in your abilities as an educator and leader.
I completely agree. Though I am only 41 (and frankly look younger), I have 26 years cooking in the restaurant industry. When I convey this to my students, they immediately stop wondering if this petite 5'4" "girl" can really lead the class, and begin to believe in my leadership. Trust me, by the end of the first week, there is no doubt left at all. I use my in-field experience as the guide, and it makes them excited to perform at a challenging level. By raising the bar and holding them to industry standards (not just institute standards) they begin to get a taste for what the future holds. I think the students really respect our experience in the field, and overlook differences of age, etc. if they know you are the real McCoy.
Well said. I agree with your stance on setting the bar high in relation to the standards of the industry. When schools set the bar low and students go out into the field unprepared or under prepared it is unfair to both the students and their employers.
With the extensive and diverse field experience you have your are right about bringing to the classroom and lab the "real deal" in terms of knowing what you are teaching about. Sounds like you have an excellent understanding of what you are trying to do with your students while they are in your classes. Keep up the good work.
I think that older students are hesitant in younger instructors because the younger instructors do not have the tenure of either a didactic or clinical subject.
I think you are right and that is why younger instructors need to work at earning the respect of their older students while establishing rapport with them. This will result in a professional relationship that benefits everyone.
I also agree with Karen. I went from teaching undergraduate university students in my early 20s (which was awkward at times but I was able to spin it to my advantage) to teaching at a career college in my mid 20s (where more than half of the students were my age or older). Older students, I find, have been a lot more serious about learning, and I've been able to use my youth as an advantage to make the learning process seem more "cool" for the younger students at the same time. Although there are some awkward moments, with more time and experience in dealing with diverse groups of students it becomes more of a non-issue.
Thanks for sharing your experiences in working with older students. As you have demonstrated it is possible to not only engage them but also help them to see how they can be successful in their studies. This is good advice for new instructors to use as they start their teaching careers.
I have noticed that myself. I started teaching young. I was 26 when I started teaching, and looked much younger. It was interesting trying to build that level of respect that seems to be built in for our elders.
Older students were more accepting and would let you show what you know before they judged you.
Younger students though would challenge me at times because they figured they would know better. And it would take longer to build up that respect be taken seriously.
I found that once I could prove myself via lectures and lab -- especially if they needed my help to complete projects, that things settled down. But it was rocky at times to start.
You have described the instructor student respect issue dead on as it applies to being younger in the classroom. The key as you mentioned is your ability. By demonstrating your competence you were able to establish yourself as an authority so students of all ages were willing to listen. Well done.
I find myself in the same position! I am younger than many of my students who are career changers, and older than the ones whom have just graduated high school. Once upon a time it intimidated me, but once I reminded myself that I held the knowledge they were seeking I found my groove and now class is a blast!
I like your attitude and understanding of the role you have as an educator. Congratulations on your ability to impact the lives of your students in their pursuit of career success.
I strongly agree with David, the longer I have been teaching the better it gets with students close to or older than myself.