A couple of weeks ago, I was asked about teaching by a pre-service teacher who had come with other yet-to-be teachers to judge for our social studies fair. I was pre-occupied with making sure the social studies fair was in order and, frankly, I was unprepared for his question. (Also- people should never ask teachers what we think of teaching in mid-February. We are too far away from either the beginning or the end of school not to answer without at least a touch of cynicism.)
After he left, I thought about his question. More so, I thought about the answers I wished I had given him. Though, I am certain he will never read this, to all new teachers, yet-to-be teachers, or anyone thinking about being a teacher- here are a few words of advice.
1. If you think you can do anything else, do it! Yes, I know that sounds full of cynicism and negativity, but I do not mean it that way. Teaching is hard. Whether you are teaching elementary, high school, or the abyss of middle grades, teaching is hard. Do not go into teaching for summers off (They are far too short), getting off at 3:00 (You will find, that while you may be able to leave work at 3, you will bring mounds of work home with you.), or because you think "How hard can it be?" (VERY!). If you teach long enough, you will at some point question your sanity. Furthermore, teaching is a career that nobody is all that great at his or her first year. (I'm sorry to all those early students that I muddled my way with as I figured this out.) Our students deserve teachers who stick with it and are willing to grow in the craft. So, make sure it is your calling!
2. Don't Worry if the Students Like You. This was the hard one for me. My first years of teaching, I wanted to be the favorite. I wanted my students to love me and celebrate me. (Honestly, part of me still wants this.) There's nothing wrong with letting the students like you. There's nothing wrong with being a likeable teacher. (I never bought into the no smile til November. I like smiling too much!) But, being liked cannot be something you aim for, it has to happen on its own. When you care too much about it, it will make you ineffective. Kids are like sharks with blood in the water; if they smell fear, insecurity, uncertainty- they will feast on you! Set your expectations for the students. Establish your boundaries. Teach and expect them to learn. They will see that you care and some may like you, and some may not, but don't worry about it.
3. Learn from Experienced Teachers. You may have more energy than the older teachers in your building. You may bring more knowledge of the "newest" techniques and ideas. Do not let that make you think you know more than those who have been there and done it. Let them share their ideas with you and share your energy with them. Teaching is about collaboration. If they tell you something probably won't work, you might want to hear them out. They were where you are once.
4. Love the students more than you love your content. Especially secondary teachers- many of us got into teaching because we love history, biology, mathematics (who does that?!!?), art, literature, whatever! That is great. Let your students see your love for what you teach, and many times that will be contagious. However, you must love them more than you love what you teach. Be interested in what interests them. (And yes, I've had to feign interest in One Direction- I teach middle school.) Be willing to cry with them, vent with them, pray with them, and laugh with them. When you love your students more than you love your content, you will want to see them achieve great things. Rita Pierson says "Every child needs a champion." Be that for your students. Not all of them need you to, but you may never know which one does.
5. Ignore the Myth of the Super Teacher. Do not try to be the next Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society, you will not conduct the next Mr. Holland's Opus, you won't coach like Coach Carter, and your students probably won't be the next Freedom Writers. Chances are you won't transform a class like Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. And that's ok. Those stories are made for movies- based on a true story, but with clean plot lines that do not always play out in real life. Teaching is hard. You probably won't be a super teacher- I know for certain , I'm not- but, you can make a difference in the lives of the children you teach. . Teaching is the most amazing, frustrating, satisfying, heartbreaking, rewarding, disappointing, exhilerating, and exhausting profession- and often you will feel all of those in the same day- but, I cannot right now imagine doing anything else.
So, if you are a new teacher, or thinking about it, or training for it- these are only some of the words I would say.
And to that young man who asked the question- I'm sorry I didn't have all this to say when you asked- but thank-you for asking.