Passing the Torch: When Young Teachers Make a Difference

Passing the Torch: When Young Teachers Make a Difference

By: Jana Kamenická

Editors’ Forward: In his article, Curtis recommends teachers write up reports based on the results from their course evaluation questionnaires and share the reports with other instructors teaching similar courses. The point is to learn from one another. Jana’s article, while not directly addressing teacher evaluation, illustrates beautifully how much teachers can benefit by communicating with each other, also a form of evaluation, no matter how much or how little teaching experience they have.

The Importance of Experience

I work with experienced, older teachers, and I am impressed by their dedication to this profession. Their wisdom, experience, and patience enrich us, the younger generation of educators, every day.

I see their efforts to impart knowledge and shape the minds of young people as a gift that builds understanding and compassion in a world full of change. The kindness and care they show their learners and young colleagues make them not only better learners or educators but also better people. I feel their influence spreads far beyond the school classroom and staffroom—far and wide into the world. I hope to be like that someday, and having taught for ten years, I am hopefully getting closer. But when I think back to my beginning as a teacher, I feel a little awkward.

I started teaching English as a foreign language when I was relatively young. After my first semester at the university, I decided to take up a job as an EFL teacher at a local bilingual English-Slovak grammar school. Back then, I was 20 years old. Studying or teaching at a bilingual school is considered very prestigious in Slovakia—as it is more demanding than a “regular” school. Of course, I got the worst class (at least, my colleagues considered it the worst). For starters, it had an ADHD student who was hated by everyone in the staffroom. I had no experience teaching at a school. To make matters worse, my students were 19 years old at that time—a year younger than me.

An athlete in a yellow jersey raises her arm high, carrying a flaming torch.
photo by Jupiterimages from Photo Images

So, you can imagine that my beginnings as an EFL teacher were extremely difficult—not only because I lacked pedagogical training—both theoretical and practical, but also because of my age. Some of the students refused to respect me—even though I tried showing off my English skills (they would show off, too), I tried to be very strict about the rules (they would still break them), and I tried to dress more maturely (since some would comment on how young I looked). Nevertheless, we somehow made it work . . . even with the ADHD student.

However, I came to the realization that while things, such as English proficiency, rules, image, etc., are of a certain significance for a teacher who is striving to be respected by their students, the highest importance lies in the respect the teacher shows their students and does not pretend to be what they are not. That is how a young teacher gets to be respected by their learners. Being the most authentic self as the teacher and mutual respect is what matters most. Unlike many of my colleagues at the time, I recognized that teenage and young adult learners desire to be treated as adults, as if they were the teacher’s equals, despite their occasional childish behaviours. That seems easier if the teacher is in a similar age group. So, I wonder. Maybe being a young teacher has advantages that do not exist for a more experienced teacher or one much older than the learners. Let us look at this possibility.

Young Teachers

By young, I mean both the novice and more independent1 teachers who are approximately 20-30 years old and teach at any type of school (including primary, secondary, university, etc.) either part-time or full-time. Some young teachers might even start their job during their university studies, before their graduation.

 1 In the Slovak teacher career system, we differentiate these groups:

    1. pre-service teacher
    2. novice teacher
    3. independent teacher
    4. teacher with the 1st attestation
    5. teacher with the 2nd attestation

I believe that despite their little experience and sometimes lack of methodological training, their role is irreplaceable. In comparison to their older colleagues, there is something special about them that very often makes their learners, especially teens, more willing to respect them, as if they were older siblings. Here is why:


Younger teachers may find it easier to connect with their learners on a personal level due to a smaller generation gap. They might share similar interests and cultural references, making it easier for learners to relate to them. They may incorporate current events, music, films, learning apps, interactive websites, or social media platforms into their lessons, which can make the learning experience more relevant and engaging for students.

Empathy and Understanding

Younger teachers may have a heightened sense of empathy and understanding towards the challenges faced by their learners, as they may have recently experienced similar struggles in their own language-learning journey. Thanks to this, their learners feel valued and understood. This might lead to learners confiding in young teachers—often even complaining about older colleagues’ behaviour and teaching approaches, or sharing their situation at home, etc.

Energy and Enthusiasm

Younger teachers often bring energy and enthusiasm to the classroom. Their passion for teaching and trying out new techniques and their eagerness to engage with learners can make the learning environment more dynamic and enjoyable.

Fresh Perspectives and Flexibility

In contrast to their younger colleagues, experienced EFL teachers might tend to use more traditional teaching techniques and approaches (e.g. grammar-translation) and be reluctant to vary their techniques or at least implement an occasional change. Younger teachers may offer fresh perspectives on language learning and teaching methodologies. They might be more open to trying new approaches and adapting their teaching style to meet the needs and interests of their learners. Being less locked in, they might also be more likely to adapt their lesson plans based on feedback from their learners.


Younger teachers are typically more comfortable with technology and may incorporate innovative teaching methods, digital tools, and multimedia resources into their lessons. As a result, this can enhance the learning experience and make lessons more interactive and engaging for learners.

A photo of a young, smiling woman holding a laptop computer.


Younger teachers may be perceived as more approachable and accessible to learners. They may be more willing to engage in informal conversations outside of class, provide extra support, or offer guidance on language learning outside of the classroom.

Language Proficiency

It is not a rule, but very often thanks to better accessibility of language learning resources, young teachers tend to have better language proficiency than their older colleagues. Older EFL teachers might also feel anxious about speaking English in front of their learners due to their insufficient language proficiency (Kráľová, 2016). In some cases, the older teachers might have studied a completely different foreign language. For example, Russian was an important foreign language taught in schools in former Czechoslovakia, but after a series of political changes, the ability to speak Russian was no longer attractive to employers,  so many Russian language teachers had to learn English later in their lives to earn their livelihood teaching English.

The Quiet Hero: A Story of Crisis and Compassion

The story I want to share with you is the real story of my former university student—a future EFL teacher. That is when I understood how important it is for teachers to not only pass the torch to their younger colleagues but also celebrate their strengths. Let me call the student “Tanya.”

An essential part of pre-service teachers’ training is a teaching practicum during which they teach in a classroom full of learners for the first time. For many of them, it is a very stressful experience, as they are anxious about possible problems. As an EFL teacher trainer, it is my obligation to visit my students during their practicum at a primary or secondary school.

I was deciding which school to visit that day and my choice fell on a certain secondary grammar school. One of my students was giving an English lesson to a class full of 17-18-year-old learners. Also present was the mentor, who was the learners’ usual EFL teacher; several other university students, one of whom was Tanya; and me, their teacher trainer. We sat in the back of the classroom, observing the lesson. I could see the students were engaged but suddenly a student asked the student teacher if she could use the bathroom. The student, Nina, was a petite young woman dressed in an oversized black T-shirt with the name of a band on it, black jeans, black-dyed hair, black fingernails, and bold jewelry. The student teacher let her go.

When Nina was gone for approximately five minutes, the mentor told Tanya and me that Nina suffers from mental health issues and had self-harming tendencies. She also told us that she should never be allowed to leave a classroom alone under any conditions, following a doctor’s recommendation, a restriction which she and her parents had agreed to. The mentor had not informed me or my student about this fact earlier.

The following minutes felt like an eternity. Honestly, I cannot recall how much time passed after this information was delivered to us. I was playing various scenarios in my head when suddenly Tanya asked if she should go and check on Nina. I gladly accepted Tanya’s proposal as I knew that, as well as TEFL, she was studying psychology. So, Tanya left the classroom in search of Nina. The end of the lesson was approaching, but Tanya and Nina did not come back. However, I had faith in Tanya. I knew that if something drastic had happened, she would inform us immediately.

The lesson ended. I left the classroom in a hurry to search for Tanya. Thankfully, I found Tanya very quickly. She was sitting and talking in a low voice with Nina on a sofa in a hallway near the classroom.

Soon, Tanya joined us in the staffroom and explained the situation to us. Nina had had a difficult moment during the lesson. She used going to the bathroom as an excuse for her need to be alone and in fresh air. When she left, her emotional crisis hit her with full force. Tanya was there at the right moment to make Nina feel heard and understood.

A photo of a young student sitting in a shower while wearing her school uniform and shoes. Her face is hidden behind her disheveled hair.
photo by Alteredsnaps from Pexels

I do not know what exactly happened between Tanya and Nina during those critical minutes. I was not there, nor did I ask for more specific details. I respect Nina’s privacy and her decision to confide in Tanya. What happened is between them.

But I do know that they exchanged phone numbers and connected through social networks. I also know that Nina called Tanya the very same day, in the evening, to thank her for hearing her out and truly caring for her. I also learnt that Nina had a problematic relationship with her parents and felt they did not truly care about her. I learnt that she also had a problematic relationship with her usual EFL teacheras the whole class had, too. At that moment, I understood that Nina could not talk to her parents or  usual teacher. And even if she had tried in the past, she felt misunderstood. Somehow, only Tanya managed to create the emotional connection and give the understanding Nina yearned for. Tanya and Nina decided to keep in touch and would call or see each other to update news about each other.

Fateful Coincidence?

Later, I learnt something that truly hit me . . . Tanya was an older sister to a girl who was of a similar age to Nina. The younger sister was a cancer patient. Unfortunately, she passed away a year before the incident. And her name was . . . Nina.

Thank you, Tanya. I am honoured to call myself your teacher-trainer. You are a true example of the power that young teachers possess.


  • Kráľová, Z. (2016). Foreign language anxiety. Univerzita Konštantína Filozofa v Nitre.

Jana Kamenická is an EFL teacher and an assistant professor in the Department of English of J. E. Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, Czechia. Her research interests focus on neuroscientific and psychological aspects of teaching and learning foreign languages, especially the role of emotions, and brain-based learning and teaching.

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