Become a teacher… I said. It’ll be fun… I said. I remember exactly what my own high school teacher told me when I asked her what it was like teaching English. “Do you want your eyes to bleed from grading? Do you want to spend hours on the phone talking to parents? Then be a teacher.”
I ignored her, of course, thinking that she was only exaggerating, or being facetious, being a grumpy washed up teacher. Unlike myself, at the time, who was a sparkly, giddy, wide eyed and tenacious college sophomore looking to inspire the world with the spoken word.
At this point, however, I am three years out of college, and three years into my high school teaching career. I teach English, just like the grumpy teacher, which the Spanish teacher at my school jokes is the “second native language.” The past three years have been incredible for me, if you look at my track record. Over one hundred graduated hugged, three seasons as a successful coach, research papers graded, attendance taken, bathroom passes written, graphic organizers created, study guides drafted and PowerPoints edited.
I found myself back at my parents’ house this week, going through some of my old college binders and was pleasantly surprised, albeit a bit more nostalgic for my own liking, at the sheer inspiration and hope that emulated from those notes and papers. It was surreal to hear my own authentic voice coming through the well organized, intricately developed and edited papers about the beauty of shaping the youth, the importance of creativity, and the ability that a teacher has to change the trajectory of so many, many young people’s lives.
Because to be honest at this point in my career, this point in my young career, things have seem to gone a bit hay wire. Any teacher knows that has been in the biz knows that its not exactly what you expected. Sometimes it’s better. Sometimes it’s worse. For me, things seem to have lost their luster.
Here are 5 things that they DON’T tell you (and ways to combat them) in school… before you become a teacher.
1.You open a book for a kid, but you can’t make him read.
If I had a dollar for every time I said… “It’s easier to read if the book is on your desk” I would probably be able to quit the profession, and subsequently quit saying that phrase (thank god). Despite the shiny nuanced ideas you might have to promote student engagement, or the technology implementation that you plan to utilize, most kids simply learn differently. They learn by talking, they learn by doing, and planning, and playing. They don’t learn by sitting quietly in a chair and opening a book. The education system doesn’t always honors their differences, which leaves a limited amount of patience for you and a growing deficit of knowledge for them.
2. The grading is astronomical.
Grading, really in any subject, is enough to make most unhardy people turn away from the profession right then and there. Who wants to spend 5+ UNPAID hours fixing comma splices, capitalization errors, and sentence fragments? But of course you do! You are the martyr. If you are determined to do it, and do it well, keep it to 5 papers with meaningful feedback a day. Anything more than that and you are asking for an emotional, mental, and physical breakdown. Anything less than that and you won’t get anything done.
3. The best laid (lesson) plans oft go astray.
You’re sitting on your couch on a Saturday night and you come up with a GENIUS and FOOLPROOF plan to teach Beowulf (the old Anglo-Saxon poem, for all you heathens not familiar with British lit). You’re going to KNOCK IT OUT OF THE PARK. It’s going to be **INCREDIBLE**. You get into school, gung-ho about said life changing lesson plan, copies made, coffee in hand. You might find that it went somewhere completely different than you pictured, which was still good, but not what you expected. More often than not, however, especially in my first year, the lessons that I spent hours creating were the ones that flopped, and the ones that I used my gut and intuition for, came out more authentic and useful I anything I could have ever planned. The bottom line is this – trust yourself, and trust that if something does go wrong, you will figure it out. Nothing will catch fire (unless you teach chemistry…). So take the risks, if you must. Playing it safe never grew me as a teacher or a person, and it definitely never led me to anything fun.
4. Creating tests and quizzes may become the bane of your existence.
Beg, borrow and steal. Beg, borrow and steal. When you were a student, if you were anything like me, you just figured that tests materialized out of nowhere. Maybe they dropped from the sky into teacher’s mailboxes, perfectly equipped with an answer key for you and Suzie B. to cheat off of when you found it in the garbage after school. Not anymore. Most schools require teachers to create their own assessments for units, tailored specifically to the works and skills inherit within that section of study. If you decide you want to continue, for the love of all things literary, ask an older teacher for theirs, or at least a good resource of using them. The Internet is a tremendous help with this. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Chances are, someone did something similar to you, somewhere, that you can at least draw ideas from.
5. A little laughter goes a long way. So does a sassy side eye (A.K.A. the side-long teacherglance)
Ask for the key to success in life and you’ll get a bunch of different answers. Ask teachers for the key to success and they’ll tell you two things: a sense of humor, and a bomb-ass teacher face. The two qualities may seem counter-intuitive, but couple them together and you get an unstoppable force. Students need to know that you mean business, and with your one of a kind sidelong teacherglance, you can stop them dead in their tracks. I once walked by a classroom with a flailing substitute at the front of the room who was trying to get three kids down from standing on a desk. I stepped into the room. I made eye contact with each one of the kids. The room fell silent. I directed my pointer finger towards the white tile floor. I didn’t say a word. The kids got down. I left. It was in that moment I decided I had perfected the sidelong teacherglance.
More important than that though, in any aspect of life, but especially teaching, is having a sense of humor. Life in the classroom is no different than life outside it. Plans will go wrong, kids will act out, you’ll forget to make copies and they will forget their homework, books, pens, notebooks, paper, brains (especially on the first Monday after prom). Life goes on. Your ability to be lighthearted in the face of adversity is what brought you here in the first place.