Will retiring teachers take all they know with them?

Here’s one of a dozen comments posted on a recent Teacher Magazine article contributed by the Teacher Leaders Network.”The Experience Factor” features several older teachers talking about why they continue to work in the classroom. The comment below was contributed by Anne Jolly, a former science teacher and Alabama teacher of the year. Read other TLN essays at Teacher here.

Do you know what I think the biggest problem is with the Baby Boomers retiring? I think it’s the Mrs. Kellys of the teaching world.

Mrs. Kelly was a wonderful language arts teacher. Kids flocked to her like iron to a magnet. In her classroom, ordinary students morphed into creative geniuses who wrote amazing short stories and became eager readers. But Mrs. Kelly turned 65 and retired . . . and when she retired she took all of the knowledge, skill, and insight she’d developed over her 40-year teaching career with her.

During her long teaching career there was no regular time for her to share and work with other teachers. No regular time for teachers to meet, problem-solve, and learn with one another in teams. No opportunity for Mrs. Kelly to pass her wisdom to the current and new generation of teachers. How did Mrs. Kelly make such a difference for so many students? I taught three doors down from her, and I have no idea.

The problem with the retiring of the boomers is that such a considerable body of knowledge and skill retires with them. And that could be avoided if teachers worked together and grew together in teams throughout their careers. Looking at (a map of teachers over age 50), it’s inevitable that lots of teachers will be retiring. What will they pass on to the generation who replaces them?

I remember cleaning out my room and meticulously organizing activities and lesson plans for the unknown teacher who would take my place. As I closed my classroom door for the last time, the knowledge and wisdom I’d gained during my teaching career rested in a dented metal file cabinet. It should have rested instead with caring colleagues, and incorporated into a collective body of knowledge about teaching and learning that we developed together as teachers.

Just think of the collective knowledge retiring in the next few years that we’ll never know about.

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