Are you thinking about becoming a teacher? As a young elementary school educator, I've learned some important lessons after being in the field for the past few years.
Some of those lessons include:
- Answers to questions that no professor lectured about.
- Issues that no expensive text book explained.
- Problems I would encounter that were non-existent in the five years of preparation for my career in education.
Want my view of a career in education stripped down? It's definitely not what you think it's going to be. Throw all of your preconceived misconceptions out the window, because that's what they are: misconceptions.
Don't get me wrong—I love my job and I feel lucky to get up every day and teach. But no matter how many internships you do or how many lessons you observe, you will still learn more in a single day in your own classroom than you ever will teaching in someone else's.
Here are some of the many lessons they don't teach you in all of those “Educational Theories" and “Teaching Through the Content Areas" courses…
1. If You're Expecting To Feel Appreciated Every Day, Think Again
The days you go home feeling as if no one cares you poured your heart and soul out on your classroom floor will far outnumber the days you go home feeling someone, anyone, truly appreciates what you do all day.
If you are an exceptional teacher, you will give your all each and every day with the hope that, in some small way, you are making a difference in the lives of your students. They probably won't say "thank you." They probably will grumble and complain about an assignment you worked endlessly on in an attempt to ensure they would find it compelling. But what will get you through your first year, your fifteenth, and your twenty-fifth, will not be the unending gratitude and appreciation from your students. Remembering why you chose to teach in the first place will get you through those years.
Remembering will get yourself through those long days when nothing you planned seems to go right. Remembering will help you when you have reached the end of your rope after a parent with no background in education questions your abilities. If you hold onto that, you'll be the best teacher you can possibly be. If you let go, you'll be miserable . (And your students will be, too.)
2. If You Don't Have Unwavering Patience, Get Out Now
If you are cut out to be an educator (especially at the elementary level), you will discover you have a seemingly bottomless reserve of patience once you enter your classroom. Students will ask the same question (which you have already given the answer for, by the way) again, and again, and again. Did I mention you already gave them the answer? And it's written on the board? And it's printed on their paper? If the thought of repeating yourself countless times every day makes you crazy, you better get used to it.
And please be forewarned: the patience you had for all other aspects of your life will suddenly be sucked dry. You will find yourself annoyed by little things such as having to wait in line at the grocery store or having to stop to get gas for your car.
3. Learn Everything You Can About Teaching With Technology
Many of the people at your school will probably want nothing to do with using SMART Boards, Senteo software, or Wii Fit. Hopefully, you will. The way students need to be taught has changed over the past few years because the students themselves have changed. Sitting at a desk while someone talks and completing worksheets isn't going to motivate any of today's students. The kids of today need to be constantly stimulated, engaged, and communicating with you and each other.
The best avenue available to teachers is technology. The odds are in your favor here. Chances are, you grew up with computers and other technologies, and your brain is thought to work the same way that your students' brains work.
Surprisingly, there is a huge population of teachers out there who have absolutely no desire to use or learn about technology. I can honestly say I teach in a district where this year many of my colleagues complained about being required to check their school email. Most of them didn't even know how to check email.
You can quickly make yourself a valuable member of the school system by showcasing your knowledge of technology in the classroom—and more importantly, your willingness to learn about and use it.
4. Spend As Much Time In Classrooms As Possible
Once you find the grade level you think you'd like to teach, do everything in your power to get an internship at that grade level. If your college offers a year-long internship placement, take it—and be incredibly thankful.
Many schools require a couple of six-week long student-teaching placements at different grade levels. However, you will never get a real grasp of what your life would be like teaching during a measly six weeks. The best thing I ever did was go to a school that required a year-long internship for a Master's Degree. Yes, I paid tuition for a year and then worked every day of that year for free; but the experience I gained was more valuable than all of the college classes, observations, and short student-teaching placements put together.
I saw what it is really like to start a school year with a group of students and see how much they grow and learn throughout that entire school year. I was then able to market myself as a first-year teacher with a year of experience under my belt which, believe me, is pretty attractive to administrators with a budget crunch looking for teachers who already know the ropes.
5. If You're Not Happy With Teaching, Don't Do It
Regardless of what some people tell you, teaching is not "just a job" (and those same people will say you have the easiest job on earth because you get summer vacation). If you want a 9-5 job with weekends off, better start looking for a new career now.
Sure, there are those teachers who come in each morning with the students and then leave with them in the afternoon, but those teachers really aren't giving it their all.
If you're not in it to be the best teacher you can be, then you shouldn't even be there. Yes, you will get paid far, far less than the amount you deserve. Yes, you will put in ten hour days and create lesson plans on Saturday afternoons. Yes, you will spend an exorbitant amount of your paycheck on items for your classroom. But you will do all these things because they are a part of doing what you love.
6. Remember Why You Went Into Education In The First Place
Whether it was for a feeling of personal fulfillment or just to see the smiles on students' faces when a concept finally clicks, it's something you're going to need to hold onto in a profession that almost half of all people hired will leave within the first five years. If that doesn't make all the other hoops you'll have to jump through seem worth it, then you don't belong in teaching.
A career in teaching is one of the most demanding and critical ones that exists today. Think of where you would be without ever having a teacher in your life. Think of a teacher who really made an impact on you—a teacher who changed your life in some way. Chances are, without that teacher, you wouldn't be reading this right now. You just have to decide if you want to be that person for someone else.
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