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Old Stories


I am 47 years old, and only a second year teacher. I began my high school teaching career after 30 years of other jobs. I don’t know as much about teaching high school as those teachers who completed a four year college program, but I know a whole lot of other stuff. All that other stuff adds up to a lot of knowledge to apply to the classroom. What specifically can I offer as an older but inexperienced teacher?

I know what matters in life. I know that relationships and knowledge are much more important that possessions and position. I know that the things I did as a teenager shaped my adult life. I know that what I learned in algebra and world history and music classes helped me in my jobs, and I can tell you how. I know that the experiences I had with all kinds of diverse people helped develop the character I have now. I recognize the mistakes I made, and I understand my regrets. I’ve had a lot of successes in my life just because I tried to do something. I have learned a lot, so I know how to learn. I know that everything I do today affects the rest of my life.

I know that our world is interconnected, and that both personal history and world history are joined. What happened before can happen again, and we need to study the past in order to prepare for the future.

I know that I am an adult now, not a “young person”. I am a teacher, a professional, a leader. I am not in the classroom to be friends with the students. So if they don’t like me, or don’t think I’m cool, I am good with that. I learned this because early on I realized my own children didn’t need more friends, they needed a mother. A mother who was friendly, yes, but who wasn’t afraid to assert authority. I want to be that kind of teacher, too.

I am old enough that I know I am not all that cool, and I’m cool with that. My clothes are more comfy than chic, my hair-style is simple. I’m not trying to get approval from the students in my class – they don’t have to like me, they just have to respect me. Still, that inner-teenager in me wants to think they do like me. At least I get a lot of “Hey Ms. Denney” in the halls. I’m young enough to want to be liked.

When you’ve lived longer you have more stories. I like to share stories about myself with my students. I tell students about my personal experiences, or the experiences of people I know. High school students like stories about people. Even an active teenager-filled classroom quiets down for a good story.

I know that when I share my stories, I encourage listeners to think about their own stories. We need our students to understand their past stories, and to think about their present stories. More importantly, we must work to help them believe their future stories are positive adventures just waiting to begin.

History students learn that stories about individuals come together to form histories about whole cultures. English students learn to see stories as the foundations for literature. If a child wants to hear more stories, they must learn to read, and I’ll help them do that. If a child wants to tell their own story, they must learn to write. I’ll help them do that, too.

I know that my own history, and all that I’ve learned, have come together to create a good teacher. Everything that happens now is another chapter in my story book.


I loved reading your posting. I am a science teacher educator working with pre-service teachers and I want to be sure to share the wisdom of today's post with them. When I was a high school teacher, my age was more comparable to that of the students and I struggled with the authority, friendships, and cool issues. I had and still have students from those experiences that I have kept in touch with and they still call me Mr. Campbell. I think those are the ones with whom I realized-students need authority figures. They need to know that we care, that we want them to do well, and that we are real through our stories. Keep sharing with your students and with us the rest of the educational community.

This was an excellent article! I am 44 years old and finishing up my bachelor's degree with the expectation that I will get my alternative teacher certification possibly within the next year. After 25 years in the aerospace industry, I need a change and after reading your article I feel there are others out in the world who can relate. After teaching some Junior Achievement clases a few years ago I have had this desire to make a difference in our future leaders lives so thank you for this insight! I'm inspired as I'm certain your students are inspired!

Your story book is a perfect way to describe all that you have accomplished!
I guess we all have story books of our own, many with a lot of printed pages, and some with just a few words. I think most kids know who's story they want to be a part of and which stories they want to embrace.
It was actually wonderful to sit down with my principal today to hear him compliment my prep work and to know that if I had been doing this 30 years ago, I might not have appreciated his words. I now feel like I am able to adapt more and learn more than I ever did when I had first graduated college.

I am finishing up my student teaching. I am 42 years old, and can totally relate to everything said in the blog. Since I am teaching in the business department, my students like to hear me relate my experiences as an accountant to the vague realities of what they are learning in class. With subject matter like business, it's much easier to explain how relevant the material is, as opposed to some of the other classes that they have to take. I also used my soapbox as a platform for my students to remember to take their college studies more seriously than I did. I had a uneven path to my first career, starting out as an accounting major, but changing to marketing, later working as an entry level accountant, but eventually getting an MBA in accounting to be able to move up the ladder. Of all the things they learn from me, if they learn to be a serious student, I'll feel that I left my mark....

Wow! I was excited to see your bolg, and to realize that others feel the same way that I do. I am in the first 2 classes of a very fast paced MAT program. I was worried that with such a fast pace, I wouldn't have enough knowledge to be an effective teacher. I am 41 years old and have a lot of experience to share with my students, some of it exactly like yours, especially that they should take their learning serious.

I'm glad the career switcher program worked for you. I went into it full force and enrolled in a masters cohort. After a year as an assistant, I was hired as and ED teacher. Three weeks into the year, I was basically told career switchers were hired as a last resort and replaced with real teachers with education degrees as soon as possible. The Assistant Principal in charge of Special Education in the Loudoun County Virginia school where I taught said she didn't have time to spend the time necessary to bring a career switcher up to speed. I hope your administraters are more supportive. Also just for the record, I passed Praxis I on the first try and my student's parents complimented me several times. The truth was the principal didn't want Special Education in his school.

Hanne & fellow 2nd & 3rd career teachers,
It's nice to know that we are becoming a force in education... the teachers that did the jobs we are educating our students for. I entered a challenging 3 year District Intern Program at 48. During that 3 year period my fiancé/husband, 2 teenage children, and friends seldom saw me since I was either studying or planning.
I passed my CBEST, MSAT, and RICA all on the first try. I went into "special" education because as a parent I knew there was a need, and as an employer I knew we (the urban US) were in big trouble. I would interview applicants for a basic clerical position and had high school and college graduates apply that couldn't spell, use proper grammar, add or subtract a column of numbers WITH a calculator, and had no clue what city was in what state.
What have I found? Administrators that look down at me for not having "student taught" and give no credence to my work experience. This is the hardest job I have ever had, and I have worked for large corporations as well as building my own successful business.
My students learn to think and solve problems. We explore the common threads shared by content areas. We use technology (streaming video, computer software, audio & video), as well as field trips (I write grants to pay for them), and integrate the arts into what we study.
We seldom have professional development that isn't a math or reading coach talking about an assessment; I go on my own time, because I love to learn. I buy books for the students for our book clubs, because I love to read, and everyone should have books that are their own. The counseling or other services my students are to receive (as written in their IEPs) isn't available because the money went to other areas.
It sometimes seems like this is an impossible job, but I am not one to easily give up.
I love teaching, and just wish that those above me would nurture that love instead of trying to snuff it out.

Just a warning to those of you who are planning to switch to teaching after a long career outside education: check with your local Social Security office first.

In a number of states, including mine, your SS retirement benefits will be severely impacted when you go to work in a public school. The so-called Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision were designed to prevent "double-dipping" by government fatcats. Instead, it impacts those of us who go into teaching late. It means that your SS benefits will be slashed.

I wish someone had explained this to me twelve years ago before I started my teaching career. I only found out about this unfair practice when I did my retirement planning last year. Had I been teaching in a private school and continued paying into SS, this would all be moot.

But after paying 30 years into SS during my previous careers and now contributing to a state pension fund, I do not qualify for the full amount of SS that others, who did not go into public school teaching, will receive.

So be forewarned!! Check it out. The California Teachers Association has a good article on its website. Search under "Social Security."

That is good advice and decision making after reflection. I also believe that it is important to leave students eager for their next class period, by leaving them with something to spur their curiosity or a project with lots of creativity and potential. It is easier for me to relate to teachers who have a wealth of experiences to offer their students because they have experienced life in a broad sense.So being an older teacher is ok.
Sally Abbey

Hanne...I am really enjoying all of your entries. At 47, I am almost finished with my MSE and LD certification after raising two special needs kids of my own and being a full time parent and volunteer. Your symbol project reminds me of my social studies methods class project incorporating literature. We all made totem poles after reading the story Whale In The Sky. I think it would have been easier to get real elementary students to talk about themselves and symbols on their totems than it was to get the graduate students pretending to be elementary students to take the activity seriously.It was a fun and relevant activity, and very much like yours. I am certain you are touching the "pit bull" in your class in a very deep and meaningful way. Keep up the good work. I'm wondering too, how you got this gig writing the blog. It's something I would love to do while I do my student teaching. An experience, in my late forties, that will no doubt be interesting and challenging. Thanks for all your thoughts.

I am a first year teacher, 44, teaching Spanish and Computers at a K-12 Christian school in Oklahoma. The challenge is putting the knowledge from the corporate world into a classroom with 12 to 20 kids instead of subordinates! For some reason, the kids are not as inclined to hang upon every word as those whose jobs I held in my hands!
This has been a wonderful adventure and I will not be looking for another career, I love this too much!

Have you seen this before? It's a number guessing game: http://www.amblesideprimary.com/ambleweb/mentalmaths/guessthenumber.html. I guessed 82317, and it got it right! Pretty neat.

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Recent Comments

  • Merideth Carleton: Have you seen this before? It's a number guessing game: read more
  • J.A. Arroyo: I am a first year teacher, 44, teaching Spanish and read more
  • Nanci Fine: Hanne...I am really enjoying all of your entries. At 47, read more
  • Sally Abbey: Hanne, That is good advice and decision making after reflection. read more
  • ellen: Just a warning to those of you who are planning read more




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