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The Disappearance of the Veteran Teacher in Urban Schools

Teacher in ClassroomAs I enter my 15th year of education, I have found myself in an unfamiliar role. This role is an unfamiliar one because I can remember not so long ago teaching first grade and being mentored by a veteran teacher. As I prepare to end another school year I have suddenly realized that I am now that veteran teacher who guides and mentors other teachers.  The thought of transitioning into this role of a veteran teacher is exciting  but has also made me realize the importance of having a veteran teacher at your disposal.
I left Louisiana in December 2014 to move back to Texas. I took over a 1st grade class at an urban elementary school and in the process developed a friendship  with 2 amazing 1st grade teachers. My 2 co-workers have very different personalities but they are very quick learners and do not require much support. As I interact with them daily, I constantly reflect on the support that I received as a new teacher and I am amazed at how the support to new teachers (0-3 years of experience) has dwindled down to almost absolutely nothing. When I look at our staff, about 15% of our staff are considered a “veteran” teacher. The demographics of my school reflects the greening of education that is discussed in the article, “The Greening of the American Educator”.

teacher teaching I’m sure that there are several opinions as to why veteran teachers have disappeared from the urban school districts but that’s a topic for another post. I have seen and experienced the effect of not having a veteran teacher to guide and support new and experience teachers and it was not a pleasant experience. In my opinion,veteran teachers provide 3 major supports for an urban school:
1. Grade level leadership so that principals can focus on other school business
2. Veteran teachers are the voice of reason and provide a model for new teachers
3. They are highly respected by parents (especially in elementary school)

I absolutely love working with my 2 co-workers because it is a give and take relationship. I provide them with instructional strategies for their classroom as well as guidance on how to navigate the politics that come along with teaching. In turn they keep me up to date on how “millennials” think and process information. I feel honored to pass on what the veteran teachers taught me as a new teacher because that knowledge has survived every change that has been made in this era of so called “education reform”. If veteran teachers are disappearing from the urban school schools then what will education for the urban student look like in the next 5 or 10 years?
I would love to hear what you think, please leave a comment below!

10 thoughts on “The Disappearance of the Veteran Teacher in Urban Schools”

  1. I too am entering into my 15th year as an elementary teacher. I can completely relate to this article. I have pondered these exact feelings you are describing. I feel like I have lost a person to look up to as well and am finding I am being asked to mentor others at times. I wish I had a mentor myself these days that I could look up to.

    1. I know that feeling all to often. I don’t mind helping the teachers in my building but it can put a strain on me as a teacher to support teachers when sometimes I need support myself.

  2. As a new teacher, I would not have survived without the veteran teachers. It was not curriculum that those teachers guided me through. It was school politics and parent challenges. I thank every day that I had them when I started. I try to pass on that knowledge to my younger teachers.

    1. I feel the exact same way. If it had not been for Mrs. Ross telling me what to say when I met with parents and my principal I probably would have gotten fired because at the age of 25 I was a real hot head!

  3. Sobering thoughts… but so true. I’m a 30 year veteran lucky enough to have a few other “oldies” around. I see how much the younger teachers look to us for direction, some sense of how to process all the “stuff” that comes at us in a day…
    I’m worried for my son as a first year teacher in California. He has worked in several schools there through his training and recently remarked to me: “Dad, I’m puzzled why I’m not seeing any teachers older than in their 40s around my schools?”
    There, and here in Michigan, the ranks of senior teachers have dwindled over the past decade. A sad outcome, I’m afraid, of the 30 year inquisition that has come out of A Nation at Risk and NCLB, reinforced by the politicization of education.

    1. When I worked in Louisiana I thought what I was seeing was specific to that state because of all of the changes that were taking place. When I moved back to Texas I realized that it was a trend that was happening across the nation. It is so sad because education is already in crisis mode.

  4. I’m one of those people who thought I’d teach 4, maybe 5 years and then go on to another field of work. I entered the teaching arena because I had three daughters, and wanted symbiotic scheduling of end-of-work-day, and holidays. However, I stayed much longer. This school year’s end will mark 27 years of elementary teaching, and that fact still surprises even me.- who put in the work!
    As a veteran teacher who has taught in almost every kind of student in almost every socio-economic community, [and also in 5 states], I can attest to the value of having experienced educators among the staff members. As teachers, we’re often excoriated and many are eager to inveigh against our chosen professions. We are underpaid, under-appreciated, and often, under the gun as we try to work tirelessly to affect change and instill a love for learning, despite the barrage of societal ills that accompany the dear ones who look to us, and show-up, no matter what, at our classroom door, every morning. For younger teachers, we veterans provide guidance (never give up, never surrender), best practices( use cloth on bulletin boards), tricks of the trade (don’t test on Mondays!), and offer hope to those who are are the brink of frustration. This vocation is not for the faint-hearted, and sometimes not even for those who were their heart on their sleeves, and I believe it gets more and more difficult each year. Yet, I love teaching, and genuinely treasure the appreciation I garner when the new and less experienced teachers share their epiphanies. When pontificating in my position as Teacher on Special Assignment/Literacy Coach, or simply chatting casually as a teacher and I walk about the campus, the camaraderie is fulfilling. Teaching still seems to remain to be a profession where experience is valued and ageism has yet to deny us our worth. One of my favorite utterances is, “cab drivers, prostitutes and teachers can go anywhere in the country and get a job.” That may be a tad risqué for some, but, I include it to illustrate one of the best pointers I can give to any teacher- “exercise and keep your sense of humor – it’ll take you far.”

  5. As a newly retired veteran teacher, with 40 years behind me, I see and share the same views and concerns about the profession. What my longevity has shown me is a shift from teaching being a chosen career to simply a job. While there are still those teachers who put in 10 hour days making sure that they can give their students the best of what they have, just watch the doors of many of our schools to see the teachers that leave right after the kids. Their commitment is more to doing what they need to in order to keep their job than educating the children entrusted to them. Much of this is the result of all the steps taken to “improve” teaching by treating teachers and kids like a business. Children are not a commodity that someone can place in a mold and expect that what works for one will work for all. And the urban areas have more exceptions to that. One of the biggest obstacles is trying to overcome in the 6 or 7 hours that the kids have in school with what happens in the other 18. For anyone, veteran or not, it is sometimes overwhelming to try to meet artificial standards when life in the city is not standard. Whereas in the past the pressure was to do all that you could to help the kids learn and progress while trying to fill gaps with nurturing and understanding, now results of test scores measure your success, not the improvement that the child made not only in academics but as a person. It’s exhausting to try to battle the new standards and evaluations with trying to do what you know in your heart is best for kids. And when you consider the lack of appreciation for education in this country, it is easier for teachers to leave than to fight. Really good teachers get better every year, and I felt like my best teaching years were my last few. I came to that because I had the all those years to learn and sift through ideas and try and reject different practices and polish my craft. And the majority of that was done before all this outside interference was dumped on me. I feel so sorry for the teachers of today because this is not the profession that you thought you were entering… you can’t be like the teachers you had when you were growing up. I hope that the current teachers stick this out long enough so that things can become more kid-centered than test-centered.

  6. I also had the experience 35 years ago of having a mentor teacher who valued, supported and inspired me. I always expected to pass that gift on to the next generation when I, in my turn, became the mentor.

    I was shocked to look up and discover, when that time came, that the phrase, “Veteran teacher” was a term of disparagement among the young teachers I encountered. At first I thought I’d misunderstood, but it became clear that the prevailing belief was that “Veteran” teachers were the cause of the problems in education. The goal was to eliminate and drive out the “Veteran” teachers as quickly as possible.

    My colleagues and age-mates continued to teach, albeit with the loss of respect for their ideas and work. We stayed in our classrooms with our doors closed, teaching as well as we could, continuing our learning curve and our passion, as we had always done.

    However, when given the chance, we left when we could – many to continue our interest in education, but outside the classroom walls, as our presence was not welcomed or missed.

    The landscape without veteran mentors will still contain the vibrancy of new teachers, but will lack the gifts that elders bring to any society – the gifts of wisdom and above all else, the skills gained by being one of the survivors.

    I’m not sure where equating “Veteran” with “bad” came from, but I first encountered it in Teach for America and its clone programs.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I completely agree with you. When I served as a Master Teacher younger principals and teachers looked at veteran teachers as stuck in their ways and resistant to change. I never felt like this because when I needed guidance they had always been there for me. A veteran teacher’s wisdom and insight is necessary for schools to survive. Just like with everything else in education everything comes full circle and they will be begging veteran teachers to come back to help keep the failing school afloat.

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