Most people leave teachers’ college with the grandiose notion of what teaching will be like. I know I did. Stepping into the building we all walked in bright-eyed and fuzzy-tailed, ready to change the world. We heard those veteran teachers talking in the staffroom about this student or that and thought to ourselves, “I will never be like them.” However, as time goes by, it’s not that we become jaded with the classroom, but it seems that the luster of teachers’ college wares off just a little bit. Perhaps if the faculty taught us these 5 things, we wouldn’t have so many teachers operating in such a disenchanted state:
You can’t “save” every student.
This will sound harsh, but it is reality. In a classroom of 20 to 30 students, it is hard to keep up with the needs of each and every one of them, every single day. There are basically four types of students: the ones who will excel regardless of their situation, others who need a push to succeed, some who need a push to “stay afloat”, and a fourth group of students that seem disconnected with school regardless of the encouragement or “reinforcement”. For the students who need encouragement, the remedy is easy – encourage and model for them. For that fourth group, try your best with them but remember that you are in their lives for 10 months out of their 18-year educational career. Come to grips with the fact that what you can’t do with one student may be accomplished by another teacher down the road. A student doesn’t have to meet you half way, but if they are unwilling to come at least 10 percent forward, there are many other students in the classroom that deserve your attention and focus.
You may not like every single last student.
We are all human. Just because you are charged in a role of educating youth, doesn’t mean you have to like all of them. Some students may not get along with you and others may downright rub you the wrong way. But there is a difference between liking your students and doing your job. Once you get over the fact that each child comes to learn with their own personality, you will be better equipped to handle those diverse bodies. Some of my most “memorable” and inspiring students turned out to be the ones that drove me crazy on a daily basis. Decenter your role as the “classroom controller” and approach teaching with the same mentality that a negotiator approaches a sale. You may not like all of them, but you still have a job to do, and that is to teach students regardless of personal biases and comfort zones.
Each new group of students learns at a different pace.
So you are finished your first year and heading into your sophomore season, you think you have it all planned out, right? Think again. With each year brings a new set of connected bodies that, when combined with your style and the curriculum, will work at a different pace than the class you had the year before. I remember being in my second year of teaching and being a month behind in a History unit from where I was at the same time the year before! Could I have gotten them to speed up in order to fulfill some quasi-established timeline I had come to know? Sure, but a lot of learning would have been lost that year if I decided to do so. The number one priority in a classroom, especially at the elementary level, is building a classroom community, or a synergy of learning. Do this first and teaching the curriculum will be happen a lot more smoothly.
Be yourself in there.
Ironically, most liberal arts Faculties of Education will implicitly mold new teachers to teach in particular ways. Whether it is through courses on classroom management or assessment strategies, most, if not all teachers, come out of teachers’ college thinking that a successful classroom looks neat, is quiet and has every student working independently towards some all-encompassing task. A new teacher will come in and their class may be operating at a level of volume that seems unsuitable for traditional schooling. Other teachers may peek in from time to time, whispering thoughts to themselves about this new teacher’s capacity to run a classroom. Despite what veteran teachers think, new teachers feel this negative energy. But don’t succumb to a prescribed traditional way of doing things. If you want to do things differently – or do things that no one else in your school is doing, then go ahead and do it. Remember, you are certified just like them, so go with what you think will work for your students and reflect on your practice as much as you can.
Keep a journal.
A lot of new teachers go home pondering about that one instance in class that they could have approached better. The gift (and curse) of being a veteran teacher is knowing that the school year is a marathon. A lot of things that affected me as a first year teacher aren’t even on the radar for me anymore, and I’m only in my fifth year! Whether it’s dealing with students, experiencing a lesson plan going off the rails, or not getting to an end-goal that you planned to get to, it is important to remember that these things will happen. What’s most important is what you are going to do tomorrow to get better at your craft. In my first year, I kept a journal and reflected on my day I few times a week. I especially took diligence in this practice when something in my classroom didn’t go to my liking. The result – at the end of the lethargic activity of writing out my reflections, I came to some sort of personal understanding. A student once told me to fuck off. I went home, wrote about the experience and through the process of pouring out my emotions regarding the situation, I realized that it wasn’t me that caused or deserved the disrespect; it was a build-up of emotions certain students face. If I left that day without reflecting on the situation in some form, I would have no doubt had a fractured relationship with that student for the remainder of the year. But because I kept a journal, I was able to let my thoughts out and repair the situation for the better when I got back to work the next day.
When you are a new teacher, you hold on tight to the “pedagogies” you learned back in the faculty. Teachers’ college must prepare future teachers for the daily trenches they are about to embark on instead of presenting an utopian reality of day-to-day schooling. As harsh as some of it may be, if more new teachers were aware of the realities of teaching, we would build better teachers more armed to handle the marathon of educating our future.
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