Being a young educator, whether by age and experience or by baby face, often brings about countless roadblocks. Beyond the inevitable pinching of cheeks and comments about how naïve and adorable you look, the more profound struggles range from maintaining respect of students to understanding seasoned educators’ stalwart ways. The question then is—are there detours for these roadblocks?
Most elementary students have a knack for pointing out the obvious and, more often than not, speaking the cold hard truth. They have yet to develop appropriate adult filters, and so, “You don’t look like a teacher!” and “You look like my older sister!” are not uncommon remarks to hear. When a student catches on to your age, or sees you as younger, it can be difficult to earn or maintain his or her respect. The student may see you as a peer or a friend, someone who does not demand respect or command authority, and the moment that happens, chaos ensues. You’ve lost ’em!
Short of wearing lifts in your shoes, contouring your face, and faking an older age, the most important thing for a young educator is to start strong. By confidently asserting your authority as a well-educated teacher with much to offer on day one, the students will feel inclined to show respect. Setting boundaries and not revealing too much personal information, such as your age, are supremely important to maintaining both your sanity and your union rights (but mostly your sanity).
Beyond the students, co-workers are the elephant in the room, a kryptonite for young educators. Seasoned teachers often have the tendency to move through changes in the system like they are drowning in molasses. The educational system changes on a daily basis in minor ways, but every few years, a new change comes along that startles the veteran teachers (Adopting Common Core! A new textbook adaptation! A different lunchtime!). When a young educator arrives with the stamina to withstand all of these changes, or the college knowledge to anticipate them, the veteran teachers may begin to scrutinize.
The most important thing to remember when faced with a seasoned team of teachers who might resist change is to stand strong in your own power. There will always be a changing of hands, a time when new ideas are brought forward to the table, and a cranky teacher to criticize. It is crucial not to roll over and accept the inflexible ideologies that may surround you. Avoid the molasses by swimming something more fluid (perhaps just stay hydrated with plenty of water), embrace the change, maintain your endurance, and order a large pizza all for yourself when you get home at the end of the work day.
However delicious the pizza may be, many a time the fresh-faced, young educators may encounter scrutiny for walking into a brand new teaching position with gusto from teachers who have “been doing this for far too long.” Maybe you have a great, innovative idea that you want to share with the team, but it is continually shot down because “you don’t know how things work around here.” Maybe you do something with your students and receive criticism for going against the grain. Or maybe you simply face scrutiny for being too enthusiastic about your shaping young minds.
When it comes to simply looking young, the best you can do is grin and bear it. Your looks matter not—what matters is that you are an awesome educator who can change the lives of your students. Keeping in mind to stamp your authority and stand strong amongst fellow educators, a young face is nothing to worry about. Consistently command the respect that you deserve and you’ll be able to swat away fingers eager to pinch your cheeks!
Regardless of age, experience, or looks, the big-picture lesson for young educators to take away in today’s field is simply to take the high road—far less roadblocks there!