As I am now over half-way through my first year of teaching, I reflect back to some of the best teaching advice I’ve received so far. Middle school can be a treacherous age as students sift through hormones and changing bodies toward adulthood, but let’s not forget those blessed souls who are courageous enough to teach them. I am among this crazy breed of people who have chosen this avenue as my life’s work. I don’t just want to be another average educator. I’m striving to be a great teacher. So here it is…some of the best tips I’ve received so far on how to be a great teacher. The following tips are from the brave men and women who have gone before me in this wacky career called teaching.
1. All great teachers cried a lot their first year.
Well, that is good to know considering I had emotional breakdowns on average once to twice a week. Don’t believe me. I’m sure that Pat would be more than happy to vouch for me on this one. While I have become slightly more in control of my outbursts this semester, they still seem to creep up much more often than they did at any other phase of my life.
2. Great teachers realize it matters, but it doesn’t really matter.
Let’s be real here people. I am making a difference, but the beginning and end of these kids’ lives are not hinged on my teaching skills or lack thereof. Yes, what I am teaching (religion) matters and it is important that the students learn. That being said, I have quickly realized that I am not going to reach all of them no matter how hard I try. I will drive my fragile little soul to madness before I am able to successfully engage each and every one of my 150 students in each and every single one of my lessons.
Even so, if I can engage each student once or twice this year and get them to question/think about issues they never have before than job well done. The best I can do is the best I can do and somehow I will need to learn to be okay with that.
3. Great teachers are not faint of heart.
We can’t expect everyone to get why we have chosen to pour our heart and soul into this profession and these kids. In fact, it sometimes takes a conscious decision not to scream at someone who tells me, “Oh you’re a teacher, must be nice to get off work at 3:30 and have summer vacations.” If they only knew the strife and personal turmoil teachers go through for their students. My personal favorite summation of teaching is as follows:
“If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.”
4. Great teachers never quit.
Someone once told me “don’t even consider leaving education until you’ve been in it for at least three years.” I would be lying if I said it hadn’t crossed my mind once or twice in the past five months. At the same time I realize that anything worth doing takes some effort and hard work. To be a great teacher it is going to take at least a few years just to get the hang of all that teaching entails: managing a classroom, getting comfortable with the curriculum, planning engaging lessons, etc. So until I really feel like I’ve hit my stride I won’t even consider leaving this profession. Plus, if the looming cloud of $20k in graduate school loans for a degree in education doesn’t motivate one to continue in a profession I don’t know what does.
5. Great teachers don’t take it personally.
Kids can be cruel. We all can recall back to childhood days of being picked on and teased on the playground, while my students don’t pick on me (at least not to my face) they have done and said things that at times really can cut deep…probably without even realizing it. So although it may be easy for me to get focused on hurt feelings, I must remember that I am the adult in this situation and sometimes being the adult means sacrificing my wounded pride and brushing it off…even if only for appearances. More often than not the kids don’t realize how much their words or behaviors can hurt another (even a teacher). So hike up your big-girl pants, princess and move on.
6. Great teachers enjoy the awkward.
This may not necessarily apply to all teachers, but anyone who has ever taught middle school knows how true this is. Adolescence is an awkward age to say the least. Students may come in late and grumbling under their breath about you one day, then tell you that you are their favorite teacher the next. Just the other day in fact I had a student asking me to be his valentine and showing his affection by giving me a ring pop ring…yes I am serious. While this sort of uncontained ball of hormones may intimidate some, those who are truly called to this line of work learn to sit back and enjoy the free entertainment.
7. Great teachers love the kids.
I’ve only failed if I’ve failed to love the kids. This is so true. The students aren’t going to remember me for how much I taught them, but rather how much I loved them. Lord, may each student who walks into my classroom feel important, loved and respected by me.
Well, there it is the best I’ve got so far. I learn more and more about these students and this profession everyday, may I always keep a spirit of learning and humility for as long as I teach.
Got any other advice for a first year teacher? Post them in the comments below.