My college methods textbook, written by Dr. J. N. Hook, includes this paragraph, which I highlighted in 1974 and never forgot:
In meetings of his own department, the young teacher may best be rather quiet in his first year or so. Maybe, fresh from his exhilarating college experience, he sees ways in which the department should be reformed. Let him postpone the reform for a little while. Let him try in his own classes as much as possible of the reformed program, but let him prove himself as teacher before he reforms others (who have presumably already proved themselves). If his teaching is outstandingly successful, if some of his new methods and materials work miracles, the other members will be more receptive when, dry behind the ears, he speaks up in meetings.
In the margin I wrote, “Thou shalt not rock the boat.”
I don’t know why, of all the passages I highlighted and commented on in that book, this is the one I can almost quote from memory. Perhaps it’s the sting of that “dry behind the ears” part. I just remember thinking that the old teachers probably just didn’t want to try anything new. Well, I was going to show them.
I hope the faculties of my first couple of schools have forgiven my youthful arrogance. My field experiences in safe, well-equipped suburban schools didn’t prepare me for an undersupplied, we’re-doing-the-best-we-can urban classroom or an isolated, we’re-doing-the-best-we-can rural classroom. I hope I didn’t whine. I hope I expressed sufficient gratitude for my colleagues’ support and help. I hope I didn’t let the kids down.
I thought I knew it all. What I knew was a few Shakespearean plays, some novels, some short stories that I’d never teach in a classroom, and a little about poetry. I knew educational theories and a few guidelines for classroom management. In short, I knew very little about how schools work and how kids learn.
I don’t blame my college for that lack of knowledge. It’s the kind of stuff we only learn in the trenches.
Having gone through an entire career, I can see Dr. Hook’s wisdom. Faculties are generally aware of their shortcomings, which exist because the faculty is focused on some other issue. A new teacher may see Issue X but won’t see Issues Y and Z, because the faculty is working on them. It takes a while to pick up the dynamic of a school. It takes a while to understand that Issue X is getting short shrift because there are only so many hours in a day, only so much energy, only so much talent. It’s easy for the new teacher to analyze and evaluate. Coming up with a solution to a complex problem? It takes more than youthful energy.
So, young teachers, go ahead and rock those boats! But when someone says, “Look, you don’t understand,” listen, because you might not. Be prepared for some pushback, because some people don’t like change at all, and a few don’t want to hear it from some whippersnapper. On the other hand, every school has teachers who are always looking for new ideas – seek them out, have coffee after school. They’ll learn from you; you’ll learn from them; everyone will benefit. Some changes can come quickly, but many take time.
I saw Dr. Hook as the establishment protecting the status quo. Sir, I apologize.
Quotation from The Teaching of High School English by J. N. Hook, Ronald Press, 1972, page 552. Yes, I still have that book.
I’m participating in Kelly Hines’ Blogging Challenge. This is Day Eight.