CAREER DEVELOPMENT / MAR. 16, 2014
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So You Think You Can Teach?

It is one of the oldest professions in the world.

From the times of the ancient philosophers like Aristotle, teachers have been regarded as both the guardians of the knowledge of young minds, and alternately the villains of nearly every story that stars a teenager. In today’s time, teachers are viewed in many different ways; we are exalted for great presentations and vilified for low test scores, we are glorified for our classroom management and criticized for assigning essays, we are promoted for publishing lesson plans and denigrated for making students read.

With all of the issues that teachers today have to face, why would anyone want to be one? The first time I ever applied for a teaching position, I was fresh out of college and still believing that I could change the world, one young mind at a time. My college professors had instilled in me a love of learning that my high school teachers had been unable to connect with, though they tried their hardest. I, as a high school student, was not willing to think outside of my narrow worldview. Disregarding my own experiences completely, I believed that I could make a difference in the lives of young high school students as my professors had done for me. I was bright-eyed, idealistic, and ready to work. However, things that are involved in being a teacher that no one ever told me halted me very quickly.

Teachers face a variety of problems that no one seems to warn you about. Someone should tell young teachers that educational policy changes as the wind blows, that parents can play an integral role for good or for bad, that teenagers are inherently lazy, etc. Every young teacher hears about changing lives and molding minds, but not the parts that need to be recognized and understood before starting work.

Be aware of educational policy at the state and federal level. When planning on becoming a teacher, do not think that you can find a book you love and teach others to love it, without regard for standards and initiatives that drive school curriculum. I walked in to my first classroom with a box full of my favorite literature and was handed Shakespeare for the first time since college. Adapting your dreams to others expectations can be difficult if you are not expecting it. Do your own research into what will be expected of you in the form of learning standards for students in a certain grade. Never assume that you know what to teach, because you probably don’t.

I have met many parents over my years as a teacher, and those meetings drive how I react about certain things. Veteran teachers told me before I began work that there were two kinds of parents: those who never go away and those who are never there. I have found that I completely disagree. I have met parents who act like helicopters; they hover over their child constantly. I also have parents that I have never even met. Fundamentally, though, I have genuine friends that were first a parent of a student in my class that cared so much about what was going on that they were willing to help with whatever I needed. They never questioned my methods, just what they could do to help. My advice on parents is quite simple: do not listen to what other teachers have to say, meet the parents that are willing to meet you and form your own opinions. Not all parents will love you, but they generally love their child, so will most often be willing to work with you. If they are not willing to do so, remember that you are an adult as well, and be the better person.

Having taught hundreds of students over the past few years, I have learned many things from them. I have also learned many things about them. Teenagers are fundamentally lazy. This is not a concept that is new to this age, but when we transition from child to adult, we seem to forget that we were once young, free and lazy, as well. This generation, though, seems to focus more on what their timeline on Twitter says, on who is Snap Chatting them, or taking a ridiculous selfie. They tend to not care about algebraic functions or compound sentence structure. When I began teaching, I was under the impression that all students in my class would eventually come around to my love of reading and learning. Naïve, yes, but no one ever told me any different! What I have had to learn is quite simple, though, they will not all care. Sometimes, no one but you will care. But that doesn’t mean that you should stop trying.

There sometimes seem to be so much bad in teaching that I have told my own students to never, ever do what I do. I spend my weekends grading and I spend my summer “break” attending professional development. I am angry at my classes for not caring more often than not, and I don’t even remember what it is like to have free time. I have had to deal with fellow teachers who don’t care, parents who hate me or that I cannot find, policies that I don’t understand, policies that constantly change, students who could care less, and even students who are deliberately mean. So why would anyone want to do this?

I teach because sometimes they get it. Sometimes they actually care. And sometimes, someone says thank you. People should teach for the students that mean the world to them. People should teach for the moments when a student who never cares about a thing actually reads a book. People should teacher for the one thank you out of two hundred at graduation, and seeing those that you thought would never make it walk across the stage. People should teach for the smiles when they are finished with school, even though we will never see them again.

People should teach because it allows you to learn to be accepting of other human beings. My students and I have argued and fought over an essay or reading a book, we have raged over correct grammar, we have had staring competitions over class presentations, and through it all, we have survived to be better people. I have learned more about humanity from my students than from any teacher I have ever had, and I am a better person. 

So you think you can teach? Perhaps you will be an amazing teacher, but never go into this profession blind. It can chew you up and spit you out in a heartbeat. Realize that you will never be able to stop learning. Realize that you are not the smartest person in the room. And ultimately, realize that it is not about the administration, the policy, the parents, or you; teaching is about the child.

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