Journeymen Teachers Need Room to Grow

As I leave the Army after a successful 20 year run, and make preparations to turn my efforts full time to education, it’s only natural that I see similarities and differences between the two fields. One area I have noticed a great many differences and similarities is in how both junior teachers and junior officers are brought into the fold. And until today, I had been happy to say that I thought that Army did a better job in being more forgiving with regard to performance of junior officers and masking – or hiding – their evaluations once they’ve moved on in their careers.

When I was a wee-lad, er, Lieutenant, we got our evaluations and we lived with them. And for many, the only fear we had of these evaluations was in their haunting us when it came time for either consideration for a key job or assignment, or a promotion board. In other words, the only times those evaluations from our earliest days in the profession even seemed to come up, was when the most was professionally on the line.

And then the Army gave it some thought, and realized that junior officers, in many ways like junior teachers, need room to grow, take chances, and gain experiences without being paralyzed by the terrorizing fear that everything was going onto their permanent record. In recognition of this, the Army changed its system to hide, or mask, Lieutenant evaluations once an officer had been promoted to Captain. It has served Army officers well for nearly 20 years.

Being selected for promotion to Captain – no guarantee in and of itself – was recognition of being promoted out of being a true junior officer. The promotion happens after 3 to 4 years as an officer, often after being a Platoon Leader for 12 to 18 months, and often after having some time on a staff. As we like to say, a young Captain knows enough to be dangerous. In being promoted, an officer is embarking on a six year journey as a Captain that will take them to the mid-point of their career, likely through Commanding troops for the first time, definitely through more staff bureaucracy. Army Captains are running at full-stride.

And when I looked at education, I saw this Army model as such a benefit. Granted, education has no centralize repository for evaluations; if a teacher does poorly as a junior teacher, they can try to simply gloss over that space and time on their resume, and hope no one notices. Or make it difficult for an employer to check up. But obfuscation is such a different thing that removing the fear that open, honest, useful evaluations would later be used as something other than an assessment tool in the development of someone so new to a profession.

But sadly, the day has come when the Army has wiped away this difference. The Army is ending the masking, or hiding, of the evaluations officers get when the are lieutenants, for things such as their promotion boards. This is a return to the days of the Army of old. It’s a sad day, indeed.

There really should be a tipping point within a profession, wherein members transition from journeyman to master. In both education and the military, both have means of apprenticeship, and I really feel that the Army had an advantage on journeyman status with this masking of evaluations, for their junior officers.
I say this, because we want teachers and others in the education field to try. We want them to grow. We want them to find themselves early in their junior years, so that juniors both find themselves and find their ways and roles in the education profession. And this transitory period, like what the Army just ended, is the kind of thing that really makes it possible. Grow. Explore. Find yourself, find your way as your master your craft and your profession.

We’ll just have to find other ways to implement something like this for education.

2 thoughts on “Journeymen Teachers Need Room to Grow

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Art! I find this perspective really interesting and it has me thinking a lot about how we encourage risk-taking and how we support all teachers, new and veteran, in both exploring and growing as well as “learning the ropes” as they go.

    One thing that concerns me at first glance with hiding a new teacher’s evaluations is that it seems to send the message that the risk-taking and fumbling along the way is something that requires hiding. I love where you’re going with the first part of this – a mindset of risk-taking is essential to learning & growth – but if we are truly valuing these missteps along the way we should be celebrating them, not hiding them. I think it also sends a message to new teachers that there is something innately wrong when they do “mess up”, and it could situate veteran teachers to not discuss those mistakes that were essential in them becoming the teachers they are. We should be telling ALL teachers, new and veteran, to take risks, to learn from the failures we all experience, to find their way as learners and embrace every part of this process. In doing so, we not only model something incredibly powerful for our colleagues, but also for our students.

    FYI – I also posted this comment, and a link to your thoughtful blog post, on my own blog as part of the #C4C15 project. You can read about the project here: http://bit.ly/C4C15

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