Career: So, you want to be a teacher?
It sounds glorious. Two weeks off during the holidays, spring break and given you don't teach summer school, two whole months off during the summer. School starts at 9 a.m., school is over at 4 p.m., and then you're free for the day. You just babysit kids all week. Why aren't more people teachers?!
More people aren't teachers because, simply put, not everyone can teach. Just because you're a mathematical wizard or a literature enthusiast doesn't mean you can stand in front of 140 kids every day and not only teach them, but manage the classroom, be a shoulder to cry on, a trusted adviser, a motherly or fatherly figure, a resource for food, a safe haven, or all of the above.
I spent two years in corporate America before leaving a successful career to teach high school English in an urban setting. After one year of teaching and a cross-country move with my husband, I jumped back into public relations and have loved every second of my time back in the PR scene. That doesn't mean I don't miss teaching, though, and I think of my former students often. On my desk at work you'll find a stack of books I taught (Lord of the Flies, The Pearl, Rebecca, To Kill a Mockingbird), a note from one of my students, and a bookmark I made for my kids at the end of the year. Oftentimes people come to me seeking advice regarding alternative certification, content exam tips and tricks, and overarching advice on my time as an educator. I think it's great that more people want to teach, but I really hope they want to teach for the right reasons: the kids.
During my short tenure as a high school teacher, I learned there are certain things you must master or have the motivation to master in order to be an effective educator. No one is going to be the perfect teacher, not even teachers who have decades of experience, but in my opinion, there are some things you simply must be able to do.
1. Be a content area specialist. This one sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised by how many people I've encountered who think they can teach U.S. History just because they enjoyed the class in high school. You must first and foremost be an expert in your content area. You will have to learn along the way (for all of my former students: I had to re-read and re-study all of the books I taught you last year!), but you still need a solid foundation for your content area.
2. Embody compassion, specifically for kids. Most people say they can't be teachers because they can't put up with kids. Plain and simple, you must be compassionate and patient when it comes to kids. They will test you every single day. Their struggles will test you every single day. Their struggles become your struggles. You will have kids come to you with the strangest requests and issues. I clearly remember one of my students was really upset that One Direction was breaking up, and even though that was extremely unimportant to me, I had to show her compassion and understand that this was actually a big deal to her, as trivial as it seemed to me.
3. Accept the state testing system, but focus on improvement, too. Schools, districts and states put such extreme pressure on test scores. Any teacher will tell you this. I never let it affect me, though, and although I didn't necessarily approve of the system, I understood it was what we had and I had to deal with it and help my kids prepare. So, instead of sulking and worrying about myself and my salary (my salary was partially tied to how my kids performed on state tests), my concern was ensuring my students would not have to go through the English I STAAR test again, not for myself, but for their own good. It's crucial to keep that perspective. If you want to be a part of change in your state in terms of testing, by all means, go for it! But don't forget that you have a job to do now, and that is preparing your kids for the test while it is still in effect.
4. Be a team player. Although you have your own classes and have different teaching styles than others in your department, you will most likely work very closely with one another. I met with my instructional coach, fellow English I teachers, and the English II teachers weekly, and we also had regular English department meetings. We shared best practices, vented and talked about ways we could be better individually and as a group. Teaching is hard, and having that support system you trust is vital. I also texted a few of the English teachers often, and it was nice feeling comfortable enough to do so.
5. Plan lessons that reach all students. While you shouldn't baby your students by any means (that just doesn't prepare them for college and the real world), educators must understand that there is not a one size fits all model when it comes to teaching and reaching students. Student A may learn better by reading what you write on the board, but student B may learn better by listening to what you say. Then you have those students who learn best by doing, so you need to reach them every lesson, too. It's a lot of work, but if you stick with lecturing through PowerPoint, you're missing a good portion of your students. This also takes a ton of creativity, but I found that it got easier as the year progressed (also, veteran teachers were great resources here!).
6. Understand your day is far from over at 4 p.m. I don't think I've ever worked longer hours than I did as a teacher. I got to school at 6:30 a.m. every day (school started at 9:15; people thought I was crazy) to prepare, make copies, set up my room for the day, all before tutoring hours. Then I taught six classes (plus the one coveted off period), stayed at school for a bit when the 7th period bell rang, and continued working at home. As an English teacher, there were always short answer response questions and essays to grade, books/poems/excerpts to read, units to plan, and STAAR prep to work on after school. But I did it because I loved it, and I knew my kids needed me to work hard, just as I expected them to work hard. Thankfully, my husband understood.
7. Know you're making a difference. One of the most difficult things about teaching is the notion that what you're doing doesn't matter. But it does, even if you don't see it right now, even if you don't see it in a year. You may only hear "thank you" on teacher appreciation day, but just know your kids are always thankful for you. Your kids need you. This world needs you. Don't let the negativity surrounding teaching (it's easy, anyone can do it, people just do it for summers off, etc.) dicate what you know to be true: you have one of the most important jobs in the world.
Still thinking about teaching? I'd love to chat with you further if you have questions! Like I said, I only have one year of experience as an educator and I have jumped back into PR, but I still love to talk about it and feel as though I've experienced enough to be able to provide valuable insight. Teachers, what would you add?
To all you teachers out there, thank you.
And remember, every child deserves a champion. (Watch this TED Talk. It'll change your life.)