“This book is a tribute to all of the teachers who come in early, leave late and give a little something extra to their students,” says author/illustrator James Ransome of his picture book My Teacher. This gem of a book also honors those mature, older teachers who use their life experience and wisdom to make a difference in the world.
In an unusual move it begins with a direct jab at ageism in our society—acknowledging that most people will first note how old this teacher is versus noting her skill:
“My teacher has been teaching at my school for a long time. Some people joke and say she was teaching before schools were even built…I know that’s not true, but she did teach my mama and my grandmamma.”
The young narrator goes on to share, “she could have retired a long time ago,” and then page by page My Teacher (Dial Books 2012, ages 6-9)) highlights the strengths her teacher has honed over her many years of teaching.
Why she remains at a diverse urban school challenged by limited resources rather than “teach across town, where the sun always shines” is also explored. The school has no library so this dedicated teacher brings in boxes of books to create a classroom library. Families in the neighborhood suffer hunger and hardship so she organizes a food drive before Thanksgiving. Her students face many challenges to succeed so she shares stories of former students who surmounted similar hurdles to find a place for themselves as the mayor, a doctor, and a teacher—herself.
Warmth and affection between this teacher and her elementary age students radiates from the pages—more than enough to warm my heart as more snow softens the view outside my window. The student narrator notes that she wants them to use their talents and loves to celebrate what they know.
I love how the author links this book about an older adult to both the past and the future. The teacher totes in her record player, instills an appreciation of jazz and teaches them the Lindy Hop. At the end, she tells them, “I teach because of every one of you. I just love teaching and being a part of your lives.” Like every good teacher she is connected to the future through her students.
Next Steps in Challenging Ageism
According to the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, for older workers “the most important aspect of job satisfaction is not their level of compensation or position, but the opportunity to use their skills and abilities.”
The article A New Paradigm for Older Workers by Michael J. Berens adds that stereotypes of older workers are often entrenched—“set in their ways, resistant to innovation, slow to adopt new technology,” etc. etc.
But the reality is different, for one thing they are “more value-driven, seeking to make a contribution to mission, community or to making the world a better place” and this is key to finding the best fit for them within an organization.
How can we challenge the stereotypes around older workers?
- Recall that word—challenge, and don’t allow others to bring up the tired stereotypes without sharing the values of experience*, high productivity*, reliability* and mission.
- Point out (yes, to kids also) that younger workers and older workers have different strengths and skills to offer in their workplace
Another article, * 10 Ways We Get Smarter As We Age, cites current research in the journal Psychological Science that finds “older people (over 65) showed less variability in their cognitive performance across 100 days of testing than did younger people aged 20 to 31.” (above link expired–Read about the research at Reader’s Digest on the same topic.)
The author tells us our reasoning and problem-solving skills get sharper as we get older, our people skills constantly improve, we get better at focusing on the positive and we continually add to our job related knowledge.
By midlife, our experiences create the “… ability to draw on deep knowledge of the past while accommodating what comes up in the present: It’s called wisdom.”
Other book reviews or blog posts related to older workers or retirement: Elder Activists, Something About Hensleys by Patricia Polacco, Secrets of Becoming a Late Bloomer and The Teacher Who Would Not Retire by Sheila & Letty Sustrin.
Disclosure: I reviewed a library copy of this book. I was not required to write a review and I received no payment for this post. Photos courtesy of the author, James Ransome.