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Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Age of Encouraging the Aged to stay in education (Big Little Thing #3)



Too many educational leaders are ageists. With life expectancy growing, some of our most productive, wise, caring professionals are going to be older. It is unfair and just wrong to stereotype the "young" as the best teachers and the old as "irrelevant."

Grace Adkins, 83 year old Learning Lab Leader who rides her bike 12 miles a night
Mrs. Adkins is one of the greatest teachers I know. She is head of our learning lab and close to 83. She bikes 12 miles a day, takes home the testing folders of 3 children a weekend (just to think and pray over them) and is unafraid to call anyone about a problem. I want to be like her.

If she had retired eighteen years a go, two of my own children would have missed her attention and pondering. I'm thinking of my friend Heather Davis who is getting ready to move from Beijing, China to Guatemala to teach there next year. She is 63 (and won't mind me telling) and has hit the age that one is unwelcome to stay in China if you are from another country. She has to move and doesn't want to.

Betsy Caldwell, my teacher and my children's teacher
I teach next door to Betsy Caldwell who is by far, one of the best literature teachers I've ever known. She taught me how to write (and fixed almost everything but the comma splice and my use of effect/ affect - which I'm working on still) and has produced almost 10 published authors and counting. I don't know how old she is and don't care. I hope she teaches forever. She's better than ever.

I can thrive after 65
I know that someone a while back came up with 65 as "the age" to retire and I have friends here in Mitchell County who are getting ready to retire in their 40's from the public school system and start their lives over.

Many teachers are becoming eligible to retire. (I had heard that 1/3 of Georgia public school teachers would be eligible to retire by 2021 but am looking for that source and a recent European Commission report says this is a problem overseas as well.) Push them out the door to your hurt.

Many great things come with age. I am a better teacher because of the balance of older and younger at my school. There's something about having perspective from many different people and multiple generations.

I do not like the "digital immigrant" "digital native" metaphor because I think it promotes ageism. I'm 42 and have been using computers since I was 7. That would make me native. I know a child who has never used a computer and is in the eighth grade -- what is she? It is not when you were born but what you did with your life that determines your fluency with technology or your expertise as a teacher.

Keep the welcome mat out
We may even find that some teachers retire only to find that they want to come back. There are many hurdles in education that have made it an unfriendly place for teachers who care about kids. If a teacher is retiring, do yourself a favor, and have a reflection session with that teacher to hear directly what the obstacles are to learning. See if they have any desire to volunteer. They will tell you.

And make sure they know that they are welcome to come back and volunteer, mentor, or teach again. Burn bridges with the aged and your school will suffer.

Photo Credits:
Big Stock

Big Little Thing #1: The student bathroom
Big Little Thing #2: Marry the percentages till death do you part
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