Teaching #101: “Tough love for people who are going into teaching”

My life as a teacher started officially when I was 26. It metaphorically began when I first started giving spelling tests to my stuffed animals. Twenty years later, I can say I have learned many things, and I have had many preconceived notions of what it means to be a teacher ripped away. It took me a moment to determine if I wanted to use the word “ripped” here. It sounds dramatic and violent, but after carefully examining my feelings, I feel it is appropriate here.

When I started teaching, it was with the sincere goal to help improve the educational system. In my mind, I was going to single-handedly undue all of the ills I felt my teachers had caused me over the years. It took only a few months to realize that students are not open, clear vessels begging for guidance, support and caring. No, each student came with their own mixed bag of trauma, difficulties, and talents.

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Over last twenty years, a myriad of budding teachers have arrived at my classroom to either student teach or just observe, and they have asked my advice. So here it is, if you are interested. If not, please know, I understand. When I was younger and just starting out, I thought I knew, too.

Be prepared to fight: Teaching is a fight. It is not a fists-in-the-air, knock-them-on-their-asses fight, but it is a fight all the same. You are going to fight with colleagues, administrators, students and parents. It’s not always a clean fight, and you are the one EVERYONE expects to fight fair. My best advice while words are being flung around and you feel personally attacked and frustrated, keep your eye on the prize. The focus should always be what is best for the student. As long as my focus can remain on the student, I can stay steady. It is often hard to want what is best for the student when the fight is with the student, but I have found this to be of utmost importance. It is also important to note that you may not be the person to best determine what is best for the student. You may have an idea or an understanding of certain things, but depending on the situation there may be someone who can see what is best better than you.

As far the fight goes, fighting with administrators and colleagues is the hardest for me to bear. Fighting for students with an administrator is scary and overwhelming. Telling a school psychologist that you don’t agree with his findings based on what you have seen in the classroom is hard. Telling a colleague that he is breaking a student’s Civil Rights is daunting, and it also doesn’t help you feel like the most popular kid in school. Fighting for books in your library and fighting to change the curriculum to include other texts and other voices is just exhausting.

You will fight for your spot in your department. You will fight with the School Board for better technology. You will fight for the English Language Learners to get the support they need in the classroom.

To do all of this, you will need to get your head straight and your back up. You will need the courage of a gladiator, the empathy of a saint, and the capabilities of a word smith since words really do matter, especially in education.

That’s all for today, but I think it is a good start. Be brave, future teachers. You are going to need it.

Love and Light, all.

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