Twenty-Four Year Old Teachers Are a Bad Idea

So the other day my co-host, John Considine, and I got into a slightly frank discussion (podcast here) about whether or not twenty-four year olds with no life experience should be allowed and/or hired to teach high school students. The whole discussion was a result of the arrest of yet another teacher sexting and making out with a sixteen year old student at a local High (Charter) School.

Putting aside – for the moment – the creepy element of ANY teacher hitting on his or her students, my questions revolve around the idea of letting a twenty-four year old teach high school students based on the fact that we are talking about people who have (a) no real life experience and (b) have accomplished NOTHING in life other than graduating from college. We are talking, certainly in this case, about a man who has done nothing in life whatsoever to justify letting him stand in front of a classroom and “teach.” This led me to advocate for the banning of people with no life experience other than school from teaching. I later softened that to teaching high school, but I am pretty much standing there.

John’s position – as I understand it – is that we cannot make broad judgments based upon a single individuals inability to work and play well with others. That the banning of twenty-four year olds from teaching would be analogous to banning guns because an insane person got a hold of one and went off. It makes no sense. I understand his argument, but I disagree with it. We didn’t really have time to go any farther with it on Thursday because of the impending breaking news from Modesto PD about the arrest of the Mancini Park rape suspect, so I outline it here.

First off, I am a graduate of Naval Instructor School and, of course, a fully qualified and certified Naval Instructor. Public School Teachers will naturally pooh-pooh that, but the fact is that teaching in a Military Environment is easily as challenging as teaching in Public Schools. Perhaps not the SAME challenges, but nevertheless, a major challenge. I served as a Navy Instructor for four years, including stints as a “Night Study” Instructor and as a Class Commander. During my time I started with one idea of what teaching was about and finished with a complete different idea.

In any case, drawing on my own High School experiences as well, IF teachers were simply regurgitating information, A+B=C, July 4, 1776, don’t end sentence with prepositions, it would be easy to agree with John’s position, but the problem is that – even in a Navy school – the transfer of information is less than the ToTaL package of “teaching.”

Teachers are not and never have been, simple terminals of informational discharge – at least not in the sense of the course material. My senior year English teacher (I was 16 at the time) took it upon himself to “expand” our knowledge and experience base by introducing us to Monty Python. Funny and entertaining it may have been, but is that what any parent would have expected us to be “studying?”

My Music Analysis teacher as a sophomore, used to regularly take us to movies and concerts, ostensibly to study and review the music involved. While it was both fun and I did see and hear things that I probably would never have otherwise, would it not reasonably be considered outside the bounds of what would normally be expected of a teacher?

And yet at the same time, do we not also idolize and lionize teachers who do “go beyond” the textbooks and documentary films? Do we not proclaim them as the truest of “teachers” for the very reason that they DO more than just transfer the basic information required? They go beyond the established limits and lead students into areas outside the boundaries of the book? This isn’t Star Trek. Uhura hasn’t simply had knowledge banks of her brain wiped clean needed only to be replaced in order to return her to duty.

Uhura re-learns the entire galaxy…

Teaching is about teaching life. All of it. The best math teachers are going to show a student HOW to use that math in what interests the student. Captivate their mind and show them how they can be even better at what they love with the knowledge that can be gained. I complain on a fairly regular basis about my 10th, 11th and 12th grade Algebra teacher. He simply did not care about the student beyond those who were on his sports team. To the rest of us, it was “Shut up and do the homework assignment.” Questions such as “Why does this work this way?” or “What can I do with this?” went unanswered and worse, unacknowledged.

To nobody’s surprise, I failed Algebra I all three years. I actually got a “D” the final semester because, and I quote, “I don’t want you back in my class.”

Fast forward two years. I am sitting in Virginia Beach, VA at Naval Guided Missiles School for the Strategic Weapons Systems Mathematics course. The course covers Algebra I, II and III, Trigonometry I, II and III and pre-Calculus in eight weeks and you MUST have a 75% score to pass. By the third day I was lost and buried under an avalanche of figures, formulas and fear. I clearly recall, to this day, getting back to the barracks one evening after class and just collapsing on my bed, in uniform, ToTaLly exhausted and depressed. Beaten. I woke up the next morning facing the day with dread and doom.

By now you know that my biggest escape and enjoyment in life – other than my family today – is baseball. And so it was that ET1(SS) Dave Smith approached my desk, seeing me struggle. For about thirty minutes he sat at my table and talked to me about baseball. Then he asked, how do they know how far a home run is hit?

I really did not know. I assumed that before the games they had measured things so they’d know or they were just estimating.

He took out a blank piece of paper and wrote upon it a series of formulas that pretty much every Trig student will know inside and out. He then walked me through computing how far a baseball had been hit. In thirty minutes I went from defeat to ToTaL victory. I passed that course with a 92% average and went on to finish first in my “A” School Class and later became the Targeting specialist aboard USS Michigan. Even today, if you watch me closely you will see me do formulas on my hands as I do the show.

All because a TEACHER decided to step outside of the “book” – all that he was required to teach, and spend some time in real life with a student.

At other times in my life, teachers taught me things that had little if anything to do with their courses of instruction. Mr. Lucetta Thompson, who taught creative writing, taught me how to look at things differently and not worry so much about what other people thought. Mrs. Ruth Darrington, my Senior English teacher, opened the door to Shakespeare. More than just an examination of language arts, she taught us life from him. Faye Patterson taught me to enjoy music, not just play it. Ray Miller gave me an appreciation for history far beyond what is on the written page.

Others chose to just do the minimum. “Here are the 10 most important things about Chapter 9 that you need to know for the test,” approach. And while that would seem to be the bare minimum for teaching, even in simple regurgitation of information, they were teaching more than that, weren’t they? Here were men and women who were, by example, showing us that just getting by, just do the minimum, just learn to parrot back the proper phrases and you’ll be fine approach to life was what worked for them.

The theory I have is simple: if you think that teachers – ANY teachers – are just there to recycle information and data, then you’ve missed the point. Everything that they do “teaches.” Attitude, behavior, actions and approaches all add up to the lesson, not just A+B=C.

Senior Chief Neal Petry once told me that if one of my students failed out, it was my fault. I argued with him for an hour about the laziness of students, the inherent aptitudes and intelligence of any given student and didn’t realize until much later that I was saying exactly what he was telling me – as a “teacher” it was my JOB to find out how a student learns and to make sure that they got that chance to do it.

And that’s something that a twenty-four year old right out of college is ill equipped to do, particularly with a close peer group of High School students.

It’s time to face reality and stop allowing people with ZERO life experience to “teach” students. Not because they are bad people or lack technical knowledge, but because they have nothing to actually teach, no life experience to transfer. They cannot actually teach, because they themselves have no experience in life to speak of, which they can really share.

Posted on October 27, 2012, in Dave Rants, Education, Lt. Nyota Uhura, Politics, Star Trek. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Er, since when did life experience become a job requirement? Agree teachers do not just teach content but learners have to be observant to ‘learn’ attitude and etcetera. Most HS I encountered thought I was 40 when I was 22 or ignored me entirely. I think I get core of what you transmit but I know some 50 year olds with few reflective lessons learned from limited life experienced. Great post. Got me thinking.


  2. I couldn’t agree more. What needs to be taught is not just facts, figures, names, and dates. What must be taught is WHY these things are important. The only way to relate these dry, lifeless facts and rules to life is to relate it to life that has been experienced. Idealism must be tempered with reality, but reality has to have been experienced to have been taught. Even laboratory experiments are not enough. Real-world life experience cannot be replaced, and is absolutely necessary.

    Is it any wonder I am against public schools as a whole?


  3. So how do these 24 year olds get experience actually teaching? Learn by doing, I think yes. They have to start somewhere. They need to make sure they embrace that broad view though. Great post.


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