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Generation Gap

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High on D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s controversial to-do list is attracting a “new breed” of young teachers, with or without education degrees, who have more of an interest in education reform than in union-steered contractual arrangements, reports NPR’s Claudio Sanchez.

Meredith Leonard, a 22-year-old first-year English teacher at Shaw-Garnet-Patterson Middle School in Washington, fits the bill. She’s supportive of changes such as merit pay and relinquishing tenure, and is adamant that teachers should hold high expectations for all learners, regardless of their home lives. "Maybe it's because I'm a first-year teacher, maybe I'm not jaded yet, but that's always been my opinion on it," she says. "There is a difference — you can't pretend there isn't — between new teachers and teachers who've been in the system a long time." According to the most recent benchmark testing, says Sanchez, all of Leonard’s students are reading with 100% proficiency.

But some observers caution Rhee’s stress on youth and change may alienate more experienced teachers, who have a greater stake in their jobs. "[Older teachers] knew they were never going to be richly compensated, but they knew they were going to have steady employment and that one of the perks is you get to the school you want to be at and teach the classes you want to be in," notes Frederick Hess, an education researcher at the American Enterprise Institute.

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why is the assumption always that "new" teachers are young? I'm "new" to teaching with a lifetime of experience in employment, challenging life situations, child development, and a M.S.Ed who also has "high expectations for all learners regardless of their home lives". It is amazing to me how many young teachers are hired and then struggle with some of the "non-teaching" aspects of the profession such as working with parents, community, and other stakeholders. There is something to be said for recruiting change of career teachers who bring the energy, expectations, and worldview of that "young" teacher with a lifetime of experience to see it through.

"New" teachers are important. We need teachers willing to take chances, approach teaching in new ways, and not be swayed by the dogma that has been ingrained in our education system for far too long.

Let's shake the dust from the system. Get innovated teachers, young and old, in their and give them the tools to make progress!

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