I’m never in an office. I don’t clock in. I am always around people. And I learn something new every day. I’m a teacher. When students and friends tell me they are thinking of teaching and ask for advice, there are usually five things I tell them to practice.
So You Want To Be A Teacher?
1. Learn to Juggle Good teachers hold many balls in the air at once. Multiple courses they teach, the hundreds of students on their roster, the role as educator, mentor, sometimes-counselor, professional, learner. Sometimes all the balls stay nicely afloat. Other times it takes a bit more work to keep them there.
2. Limber up – Be Flexible The fire alarm goes off during the most important part of your lesson? The field trip that day runs late and half your class is missing? Your lesson that sounded so good to you on paper is totally not working at all with the students sitting in front of you? It’s ok. You can make a new plan on the fly, adjust your ideas, start over. You’re a teacher.
3. Summon All Your Patience My high school English teacher gave me the same award when I was in his class as a sophomore and a senior: Most Equanimity. I am even-tempered, not much rattles me, especially in my classroom. My students comment that I am patient, that I respect their idiosyncracies and don’t lose my temper over the small stuff. The “choose your battles” mantra of parenting applies in the classroom, too.
4. Remember You’re a Learner Too I tell the students on the first day of school and the parents on Back To School Night that if I could be anything besides a teacher for the rest of my life, I would be a student. I watch as the jaws of the students drop and as the parents mostly all nod their heads in understanding. The secret that I don’t tell the students the first day is that I really am a student. Each class of each day teaches me something new. I can’t imagine a job as challenging as teaching. And after 13 years in the classroom, I have learned more than I ever imagined I would.
5. Prepare To Be Inspired Many people go into teaching because they want to inspire students. The truth is, the students are the ones who really inspire us. I leave work each day inspired by the stories my students share, the many insightful discussions I’m lucky to facilitate, the sometimes endless flow of papers written by students who are truly engaged in their world, the conversations about books to read outside of class that spark or rekindle a love of reading. Teachers might walk in the room wanting to do the inspiring, but good teachers quickly realize that it works even better the other way around.
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