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- CA politician discusses willful defiance, educational priorities - October 7, 2014
- Teacher-Saving Web Tools, Part I: Differentiate reading news with Newsela and Readability - October 2, 2014
- CA Bill Addresses Suspensions and Expulsions - September 11, 2014
- Teaching Ferguson: Resources for High School - September 3, 2014
- Meet the Parents: A Young Teacher’s Back to School Night - August 28, 2014
- Minimize Homework to Maximize Your Classroom - August 22, 2014
- The State of Education: Funding Control Changes in California - February 26, 2014
When people find out I teach high school, they often reply with some surprise, “but you look like a high school student yourself!” I sigh, they tell me I’ll be thankful for my youthful appearance as I get older, and we move on – but through these interactions, I am constantly reminded of the additional work I need to do to build legitimacy and authority as an instructor.
And there is no clearer time when I pressure myself to this point than during Back to School Night (BTSN). It is one thing to have to prove to the students that they can trust me, but it’s a whole other to make parents feel comfortable that a young whippersnapper is in charge of teaching and empowering their child in the participation of our political system. Furthermore, as an Advanced Placement teacher, I feel obligated to prove to parents that I will indeed prepare their child for the AP exam.
Our BTSN took place during this past week. I stressed over my dress, my presentation, my vocabulary, my time usage… everything. I took great care to select a professional outfit. I dry-ran my presentation to ensure it fit in 10 minutes, leaving five for questions and a half-sheet I’m asking parents to complete.
I opened my door and waited for parents. A parent looking for another classroom saw me, looked confused, and asked if I was a student. Great start to the night. I started second-guessing everything. Am I not exuding the right “vibe”? I answered that I am indeed a teacher, and got the standard response: “Wow! I could have sworn you were a student! But you’ll be thankful for that later!”
As it gets closer to 7 p.m., my students’ parents start entering the room. Some give me confused looks, others ask if I’m the teacher (sigh…). I’m excited, but I’m also nervous. So much is riding on this.
But a strange thing happens. Some parents start coming in, smiling, and say, “No wonder [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][student’s name] loves you!”
And yes, these amazing moments were interspersed with some confused looks – but I realized something changed within me. All of the sudden, it was no longer about proving to these parents that I can be trusted, despite my age. I was gaining confidence with each parental smile and encouraging remark. I had been gaining the students’ trust and confidence.
This reminded me that my youthful appearance actually can serve as an asset to my teaching. Students may be more inclined to “buy in” to certain activities and lessons because I look more like them; they may lend me their trust more readily. We all come in to our classrooms with a unique lens through which we understand and teach the world – and this lens is created by both controllable and uncontrollable aspects and experiences of our lives. While I wish I looked older, I realized in this moment that my youth builds rapport and contributes to my unique lens in how I approach teaching.
BTSN isn’t about proving yourself to the parents. You know what you teach, how you teach it, and why you do what you do – and that has no age restriction. You impact students every day. You inspire. Encourage. Empower. The parents see that when their child comes home from school every day – and that is what builds trust.
So younger-looking teachers, take note and learn from my mistaken assumptions. Yes, it sucks to constantly get reminded of how young you look. Yes, you may have to change up your classroom management plan in the beginning, to let students know they can trust you, but that they cannot take advantage of you. Yes, you will have to deal with a lot of crap. But as long as you teach with purpose and passion, your age will not define you (regardless of if you look young or old) – and parents will be quick to see that.
What about you: how has an uncontrollable aspect of your appearance impacted your teaching? Have you found a way to embrace it? I’m still figuring this out myself, and would love to hear from you in the comments!