I vividly remember my college graduation (many years ago, mind you). I was fresh-off a semester of student-teaching tenth grade English. My college cohort spent a semester visiting “urban” schools (my college was situated in a rural part of Ohio). I tutored middle school students in Cincinnati for their upcoming state tests. I was certainly prepared for my own classroom.
Or so I thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The article, “What Should We Expect Pre-Service Teachers to Know?” offers many salient points. Yes, I video-taped myself many times and while I detested watching myself in action, it helped me tweak my teaching craft. I learned that communicating with parents (and keeping records of doing so) can help a teacher tremendously. Worksheets are not always the answer (and really “ditto” machines are a thing of the past).
However, the article missed the mark in some respects. Because the only way to actually know how to teach is to teach. Get a job. Get your feet wet. Jump all-in. You’ll either sink or swim (most often, you’ll tread just enough water to keep you afloat, even as a seasoned teacher).
My first year of teaching included a lot of yelling, crying, frustration, wine and Tylenol. It was hell. I hated it. There were times (like when an eighth grade student threw my class radio on the floor because I wouldn’t let him use the bathroom) that I thought I just wasn’t cut out for teaching. The administration offered no support and my mentor tried to comfort me, but was biding her time and wasn’t necessarily interested in improving her craft or mine.
Despite my feeble attempts to instruct students with very little resources and help available, I kept on treading water. A few colleagues checked in on me periodically, telling me “it would get better.” Eventually, it did. But not without major struggle.
Experience = everything in the teaching world. Once I had two years of experience, I was able to get a job at a school with more support, resources, and higher pay. I was, for the first time in my career, happy. I felt like I was making a difference. No one slammed my classroom radio into pieces. In my mind, I was thriving.
Teaching is like riding a roller-coaster. There are times of great joy and excitement, but sometimes things are scary as hell. And sometimes you get “stuck” and go off-track. I’ve taken a total of two years off during my tenure as a teacher. Regardless of popular belief, teachers are not the Energizer Bunny. Eventually, they stop.
What should society expect pre-service teachers to know? I have a few ideas:
1.) Communicate with parents often. Keep a log of ALL methods of communication. Be professional, even when a parent is rude or blames you for their child’s behavior, refusal to turn in work, etc. You must keep your cool in all communication with the parent. Tell your husband/friends how you really feel at home while drinking a glass of wine.
2.) Avoid the teacher’s lounge. Or any area where teachers are gossiping about students. This is SO HARD! However, it’s also negative energy. You don’t need it. Avoid like the plague. Do not fuel the fire. If you do, your words will come back to haunt you.
3.) Do that cool/innovative lesson. Use the school lap-top carts even though you’ll spend half the time instructing the class on how to connect to the Wi-Fi. Don’t be afraid to teach “outside the box.”
4.) Ask for help. Your colleagues are a great resource. Have some of them pop-in and do a peer observation. You can bet you’ll get some excellent tips and tools.
5.) Management, Management, Management! If your classroom management sucks, then your year will be twice as difficult. Spend the first month of school (or longer) going over procedures, etc. Practice lining up. Make the students walk silently in a line and practice this over and over. Be a hard-ass about how you manage your classroom. Seriously.
Lastly, allow yourself to make mistakes. I still make plenty. And I’m sure I’ll make more. Give yourself time to reflect. Allow yourself down-time on the weekends. Re-charge in the summer. Because in the end, teaching really is the most rewarding profession.