When I started my career in education, I was 21 years old and fresh out of college. Not surprisingly, my Animal Behavior degree with a focus on Bioethics was not exactly a freeway to the job market. In fact, I had applied to exactly zero jobs the summer after college graduation because none of them were, “Animal Behaviorist willing to work with animals only under ethical conditions.”
It was my mother who encouraged me to apply to be an instructional assistant. “You’ll like it,” she said. When I expressed intense hesitation, she said, “I’m not paying for your student loans, by the way.”
I applied, and got the job. Instantly, I was the “cool,” teacher because I used the same slang my students used, I watched the same ridiculous videos they watched, and we lamented over the same pop culture rumors. I was, after all, only nine years older than the 8th graders I worked with.I loved being the “cool,” one.
Now, that is not the case. Most of my students were born in 2004, the year I graduated from high school. While I certainly know I’m not old, my students definitely make me feel that way, this year more than ever. Here are some of the things I’ve had to explain to my students this month alone:
- The noise that our computers used to make when using dial-up. One of my gems said it sounded like a “dying cat.”
- The fact that we used to carry our CD’s in binders.
- What a CD is.
- How to “burn” music onto a CD – “No, you don’t use actual flame”
- VHS recording process – “no, you had to put the tape in first, and then press record”
- What I meant by, “tape” – not the sticky strip they use to bind their pencils together
- That cell phones were once used to only make calls – one student audibly gasped when I said this. Like this:
- MapQuest, and how we turned it into a verb. “Have you MapQuested it?” totally baffled my students.
- Cursive – “I thought they only taught that in like, one-room schoolhouses!”
- That the United States Postal Service still exists. This came about when we were writing a letter to someone that inspires us, and a student loudly exclaimed, “but what if my person lives on the east coast?” he then threw his hands up in exasperation. The letter had been, in his opinion, all for naught. When I replied, “You put it in an envelope with a stamp and put it in the mail?” he looked incredulous and said, “that’s still around?”
And to add insult to injury, the number of white (not silver or gray. No no, mine are flat-out sorceress white) hairs on my head has grown exponentially in the last six months. Sigh. Also, my knees make an audible creaking noise when I get up from helping a student. That’s a new development.
So, I may be losing my “street cred,” (do the youngins say that anymore? Did they ever say that?) but I have gained a whole lot of confidence in the type of educator I want to be. I don’t worry about looking “cool,” in front of my students. I worry about whether I am guiding them toward being the best versions of themselves.
With every ultra-white hair I get, I get more courage to be silly in front of them, to make mistakes in front of them, and question the world in front of them, because I want them to do the same. Now, I don’t get the “you’re just like us,” comments. I get the, “when I’m your age, I want to be funny and smart like you,” comments. Maybe I’m not cool anymore, but they know that I’ve been through some crazy moments as a drop of mocha in world full of vanilla lattes. And, maybe, they realize that if their living fossil of a teacher can make it through, they can, too.