“-Isms” are forms of prejudice that can affect children and families, but can also have a profound influence on educators. I have been incredibly humbled throughout this program to realize how privileged and devoid of prejudice I have been throughout the majority of my life. I have become much more attune to microaggressions faced by others and how to positively affect the reversal of these prejudiced behaviors.
When I began my teaching career, however, I had just turned 23 years old and apparently looked and sounded about 16. This is when I experienced ageism. I remember several parents referring to me as “honey” or “dear” and on numerous occasions and was directly asked my age. During my second summer of teaching first grade, I eagerly headed out to Walmart to heap my cart with “back to school” supplies for my classroom. Upon filling the checkout belt with my supplies, the cashier looked quizzically at me and said, “Well, what fun project are you planning to do with all of this, dear?” Excitedly I replied that I was restocking my classroom supply bins and closets with these necessary supplies that my inner city students could not afford. The cashier’s facial expression changed quickly from curiosity to sheer shock. “You cannot be old enough to be a teacher!” I smiled and told her that my University seemed to think so and my hard work and ambition allowed me to graduate my education program a year early. Still puzzled, she continued to stare at me in disbelief. While this situation was somewhat comical, there have been other times that I remember being faced with parents who scoffed at my age or did not take me as seriously as veteran teachers. These were parents that didn’t “expect [me] to understand” being that I was young, single, and had no children of my own.
If I had chosen to allow remarks and interactions such as these to negatively affect my teaching, it would have been easy to project them onto my students. This can quickly begin to give someone an inferiority complex. Children could begin to feel a sense of similar inferiority and lack of worth due to their age. This type of influence can lead to children developing a negative perception of themselves as well as low self-esteem. Children and families might also lose respect for my authority if my age was so negatively portrayed. Families need to feel confident that regardless of my age, I am highly qualified and capable of meeting the needs of their children, as well as others in my classroom. If families were to see my age as debilitating in some way, I could not effectively cultivate effective and successful partnerships with them. As anti-bias educators, we need to establish a welcoming environment that fosters holistic acceptance in our classrooms (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010).
Derman-Sparks, L., & Edwards, J. (2010). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. Washington, DC: NAEYC.