Outside of science fiction or premature death, aging is an inevitable process. Time passes and entropy occurs. Many theories about why we age have been proposed, but no one truly understands the process or the reasons behind it.
According to Erikson’s psychosocial development, I should be in middle adulthood, a time when I am creating a legacy that will survive me (About.com, 2013). I have no children and no wish to change that, so my legacy will come from another source, most likely my writing. I have five published books in two genres, three more books under contract, and a pile of ideas in the queue to be written.
Erikson’s model indicates that successfully completing my current development level will result in a caring for others (Merriam, Cafferella, and Baumgartner, 2007). That characteristic was inherent in my nature long before I reached my current age.
Levinson’s age-graded model places me in a mid-life transition time when I am supposed to be more mentor than peer and focus on leaving behind something meaningful (Theories of Life Stages and Human Development, n.d.). Again the focus is on making an impact on the future.
Although I suppose my writing will survive me, that is not why I write, and the thought of leaving a legacy does not factor into my decision-making. I did not return to school to learn something that will help me leave a bigger mark on society. If these psychological models affect my own education, I do not see how, but maybe that will change as I get older.
I grew up in the far south not long after the Civil Rights Movement. My parents taught me to respect people who were moral, upstanding citizens, regardless of their primary language or skin color.
Contrary to Helms’ White Identity model, I never did perceive myself as privileged to be White (Merriam, Cafferella, and Baumgartner, 2007). If anything, in that era of Affirmative Action, being White blocked me out of some opportunities, such as scholarships, and made finding work harder. Companies were concerned about making quotas, so if the decision came down to me and someone of a different ethnic background, I lost.
Although none of the models address this challenge, I faced a huge social adjustment to being disabled. Most of the time, my seizure disorder is not obvious, which made the process even harder because people expected me to be normal, and then something would go awry to reveal that I was not. I have dealt with discrimination in schools, churches, friendly gatherings, and workplaces.
One university tried to block my efforts to get a degree because the college’s leadership insisted people with seizure disorders were unheard of in education and posed a hazard to the students. At one workplace, I was let go because my disability might scare away customers. I found that curious because the job was done entirely over the phone, and no one aside from the guy in the next cubicle would know if my hands were shaking or not.
Looking back on the process overall, I went through a series of steps to the level of maturity I have now. First, I denied having any disability. At the time, I could take medication to control the seizures and appear to be normal. Unfortunately, something would trigger a seizure and my secret was out, which invariably resulted in hurt feelings, anger, and rejection.
Next, I tried using the disability to garner sympathy. Instead of hiding it, I used it to get out of extra work or to gain exceptions to the rules. The law of unintended consequences came into effect with this one. Not only did my efforts get me out of things I did not want to do, but they also resulted in people leaving me out of things I would have enjoyed.
I have reached a point now where I do not make a big deal of having a seizure disorder, but I do not hide it from the world, either. If a seizure of any sort happens, the explanation is matter-of-fact. I still deal with discrimination from time to time, but when it happens, I attempt to educate the other person or, failing that, leave.
Merriam, Cafferella, and Baumgartner (2007) review a debate about the exact nature of intelligence. Is intelligence a matter of inheritance or environment? During my tenure as a public school teacher, I sometimes had two kids from the same family in different years. I did not notice consistent trends in a family group, but I did notice that kids who had an educationally rich environment did better than those who sat at home playing video games.
In my own life, I would have to say that environment appears to have been a bigger factor than biology. Compared to my family in many aspects, I might have wondered if I had been adopted except for the obvious family resemblance to my mother.
I have always been very curious. As a kid, I read dictionaries for fun and favored adult-level books. I wanted to understand my disabilities, so I spent time deciphering medical encyclopedias and other texts. I recombine information in weird ways and sometimes do problem-solving by unorthodox strategies. These are all traits I do not see in my family.
Impact on the Future
When I was teaching children, the biggest age difference in a class was four years, and that only occurred when I had a student who had been held back a year and one who was a little young for the grade. Four years can make a difference in maturity levels with kids the age I had, but the overall effect was minimal.
Teaching adults, however, will be quite different. Realistically, I could expect students who have recently finished high school or college alongside those who are counting seconds to retirement. The students will have different values, needs, experiences, and outside influences. The stages of life bring different challenges. Being aware of those differences can help me anticipate possible barriers to learning.
Dealing with physical concerns, I may need to speak louder or slower for students who have hearing deficits. Tiny print and dim lighting might not be an option.
Psychological issues come into play when I deal with students at different stages. For example, a reasonable accommodation may need to be made when a student misses a class or deadline for taking care of a sick child or aging parent.
Socio-cultural differences are in effect, too. The older generations have different values than the younger ones, and different things motivate them. Sometimes the variations in their perspectives can encourage interesting conversation, but conflicts can develop, too.
Familiarity with the different theories can help me plan and execute lessons, but some care will need to be taken to make sure decisions are not made based on stereotypes. The models are reliable to a point, but even the research on the effects of aging is inconclusive.
To improve my thought processes about education, I might need to look specifically into the views of education in different cultural groups. Although I spent all but two years of my teaching career in districts where my race was in the minority, the mandated curricula allowed little consideration for cultural backgrounds. Every year, when we spent time disaggregating the previous year’s test data, there was a lot of talk about differentiation, but that usually turned out to be a hand-wave. The school year would get going, and the mandated curricula had to be taught with fidelity, precluding any real differentiation.
A better understanding on the different assumptions and views my students have will help me design lessons that help them succeed.
About.com: Psychology. (2013). Erikson’s psychosocial stages summary chart. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/library/bl_psychosocial_summary.htm
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Theories of Life Stages and Human Development. (n.d.) Daniel Levinson. Retrieved from http://humangrowth.tripod.com/id3.html