I thought I knew, but I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I began teaching – I can’t be the only one, right? I hope not.
I mean, how can you really anticipate what will happen when you are left alone in a room with 25 or more children and the door closes behind you, and they’re staring back at you in anticipation? One day you’re playing teacher with all your stuffed toys in the safety of your bedroom as a child. Then the next you have the responsibility of imparting knowledge, safety and wisdom on the young people before you.
Three years in, I am not quite as terrified as I was on that very first day — however, many soon-to-be teachers think teaching will be their avenue for “saving the world,” that all their students will love them, and all their lesson plans will be so incredible and engaging that they will never be “that” teacher with disciplinary problems. Oh, and summers… ahhh, summers! Need I say more about that one?!
While I am fully aware that I still have a long way to go on my path to being a more effective and confident teacher, here are twelve ways teaching has so far affected my thinking:
- All my students will love me – but that doesn’t mean that they will do what I want them to do!
While some may love you more than others, most students do have love for their teachers, whether they admit it or not. They want your love and adoration – but setting clear boundaries as a teacher is as important as parents setting loving boundaries at home with their children. As their teachers, we want them to feel loved and cared for, after all students who know their teacher loves them will also work harder at trying to meet expectations. However, there is a difference between trying to be their “friend,” and setting clear expectations while also inviting your students to get to know you on a somewhat personal level. In my podcast chat with Melissa Ascencio, she talks about how she uses her sense of humor with students to help build relationships and trust.
- Teaching is 90% Relationships and 10% academics.
Much in the same frame as above, I have come to realize that teaching is a lot more than lesson plans and unit writing. Connie Lam talks honestly about her experience of being “thrown into just chaos” when she began teaching. She talks about how she wishes she had more support in building relationships and classroom management strategies with her specific population of students. It wasn’t until I moved from working in a standard classroom, which can be very formative based and numbers driven, to a Montessori school where I finally learned more about looking at the “whole child” and explicitly teaching solid strategies to meet their emotional needs that I began to really feel like I was becoming a teacher.
- My day is not done at 3, it’s not done at 5 either…
A common misconception about becoming a teacher is that our jobs are flexible. Our students are dismissed by 3 (or even earlier at some schools) so, naturally a teacher’s day is now open to doing “whatever,” yeah right. One of the most common things I am hearing among all my podcast chats has been this common struggle among teachers about how to balance one’s personal life and teaching life. Think about it, all the emails that come in during the day, all the paperwork that needs to get done, lessons that need to get planned, meetings that need to take place, professional development and credentialing requirements, parents who need to check in, and so on… all those things cannot even be touched until all your children have been dismissed at the end of the day. I have come to learn that I need to be more efficient with my time to get things done. Something I am still working on.
- I cannot fix everything.
Danielle David talks about not always having to have an answer. She shares how one of her biggest lessons as a teacher has been the realization that “the most valuable tool you can give to someone is your active listening… you’re just listening with your ears and heart.” As teachers, we can be made to feel like we should know everything and that we should know how to fix it all too. However, as a teacher I have learned that the most powerful tool I can give my students is the skill to learn the process of figuring things out. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know,” it’s ok to just teach how to listen with your “eyes, ears and heart.” Those lifelong skills will stay with them far into their future — and also relieves me from feeling like I need to have an answer to every question they may have.
- Teaching is not always fun.
That’s right kids, sometimes your teacher doesn’t want to come to school either! As a career changer, I definitely feel like I spend my days more productively and walk away feeling more fulfilled than I did at previous jobs, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have days where I just want to tear my hair out. Sometimes, teaching is just not fun, but it’s always meaningful, and it’s always challenging and it’s always different every day.
- Professional development can sometimes be a drag.
I am what they call a “introverted extrovert,” which means that while I thrive on social interaction, I also gain energy from time alone. I enjoy sharing strategies, chatting and learning more about how I can be a better teacher – hence the development of these podcasts and blogs. However… there are times that professional development meetings can also feel like a drag. With so many things on a teacher’s plate during the day, it is often hard to concentrate during a PD meeting without also thinking of all the other things that you can be doing during that time.
- I’ve become more aware of the importance of self care.
I feel so grateful to work for an Ashoka Changemaker school where mindfulness practices such as meditation, silence and empathy are embedded in our daily curriculum, as well as at our own staff meetings. With a background that started in corporate America, in the fast-paced city of New York, it has been so wonderful learning how to slow down. That said, just as I am still working on strategies on being more efficient with my time, I am still working on implementing mindfulness and self care into my daily life. However, being a teacher is all about modeling and I often model using strategies such as meditation, and deep breaths with my students and have seen it help them develop coping strategies at such an early age.
- I’ve come to appreciate having a growth mindset.
It can be so easy to get caught up in scores, but being able to sit back and watch a child go from barely putting sounds together in the beginning of the year, to reading close to grade level in just a matter of months is so rewarding. They are growing, we are growing. The process should be just as celebrated as the outcome.
- No two teachers do things the same way.
I mentioned before how much I enjoy collaborating with peers. When I first began teaching, however, I thought that I needed to copy exactly what other experienced teachers were doing in order to be successful. I soon realize that taking bits and pieces of strategies from other teachers and finding my own style would really be what feels natural and in the end lead to positive growth as a teacher.
- I absolutely appreciate parents who understand that mistakes are for learning and that it’s OK if there child is not happy ALL of the time.
As a parent before becoming an educator, I was privy to lots of playground talks with other parents who were overly concerned with their child’s constant state of happiness. While I never really bought into that mindset, as I think teaching resilience and creativity that can, and often, comes out of things like frustration and boredom is actually healthier in the long term – I have come to appreciate so much other parents who also appreciate this kind of growth mindset for their child. It makes teaching their child so much easier because they are able to understand that mistakes are for learning!
- I’ve come to learn to let go of parent expectations – especially my own
Often parents are the first to be blamed if their child falls short of expectations. As a mom of two boys, I have had many times where I felt that my boys behaviors were an absolute reflection of me, and while that may be true in many ways, it is not absolute. I appreciate that being a teacher, who is also a mom, I’ve been able to see each child for who they are without judging their parents. I could teach my son all about how important it is to follow directions in school, but I’ve come to face it, he is a social butterfly. His love of talking, in moments that aren’t always the best during class, does not make me a bad parent.
- Summer and holiday breaks fly by!
That’s right folks… and as a career changer, I totally remember what it was like to only have five vacation days in a year. However, I have learned that teaching is such an enormous job, that when a break comes along, it is greatly needed! Also, to be even more honest, teachers are never really “off.” Whether planning, attending professional development conferences, setting up the classroom, or finding creative ways to raise money for classroom supplies – because well, if I wasn’t so set on wanting to not go over just 12 ways teaching has affected my thinking, I would add a 13th about how underpaid teachers are and how under-served many of the schools we work in can be, especially those of us who work in urban public schools.
Funny thing though readers, despite all I’ve listed, teaching has been the most rewarding and enriching career I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. And I guess, if I were to cheat and add a 13th after all, it would really be that one of the most everlasting ways teaching has affected the way I think it would be that I see the future in my children, and so I see the future very brightly!
By Jennifer Khadir