When I was a child, my favorite game to play was “school.” My siblings and cousins and I would all take turns being the teacher and having a pretend classroom, which was actually just one of our bedrooms turned into a makeshift classroom with all the supplies our little hearts desired, because my mom is a teacher and our household is filled with worksheets and pencils. I’ve known since about age 9 that I wanted to become a teacher. But that was in the year 2000 when the teaching world was a completely different ballgame than it is today.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on what it’s really like to be a first year high school teacher. Quick refresh: it’s challenging and demanding and terrifying and rewarding and thrilling. Last week, I saw on Facebook that one of my good friends was accepted to the teacher education program at Michigan State University (a notoriously tough teacher preparation program). And while I know for sure that she’s going to make an outstanding teacher one day, there are some things to know before becoming a teacher. So if you’re considering teaching as a career path, continue reading.
I’m not here to convince you to be a teacher. Becoming a teacher is not a “maybe” thing. You’re either in or you’re out. If you’re looking for a 9-5 job that will give you a paycheck and allow you to have the summers off to pursue other passions (whatever that may be), please don’t ever step foot in a classroom. Becoming a teacher is a whole-hearted, complete, irreversible life change. And while I’m not here to convince you to be a teacher, I’m not trying to scare you away from this profession either. If you know in your heart that you love children and love working with children, then follow that instinct. But you need to be prepared to grow. You need to be prepared to have everything you know questioned. You need to be prepared to adapt.
You will not step foot in the classroom and instantly be a Dead Poet’s Society caliber teacher. You won’t be Freedom Writer fabulous from day one. You will suck. Unless you’re like my best friend, who is just a fiercely good educator because that is one of her God given talents, you will fall flat on your face. And that’s okay. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re brand new at something.
Teaching is not for people who can’t accept failure. If you’re in a teacher preparation program at your university, you’re probably starting to dabble in lesson planning and going into classrooms to observe veteran teachers (side note – I promise that writing those lengthy lesson plans has a purpose…one you won’t see until you’re a full-time teacher and you know the steps of a good lesson plan by heart). Take a good look at the teachers you’re observing. The reason they are so damn good at teaching is because of trial and error and failure. They have failed repeatedly (especially in the first year or so), but those failures taught them so much about success. As a teacher, you will have some lessons that are kick ass and you will have some lessons that make you want to punch yourself in the face because of how horribly it went. But you have to be willing to accept your failures and grow from them. (But seriously. You will spend hours on a lesson plan that you think is God’s gift to Earth and then your kids will hate it and then you will cry. And that’s okay. Learn from it).
Teaching is not for weak individuals. You have to be resilient. You have to be thick skinned. You have to be flexible and quick on your feet. If you aren’t strong enough to handle 100 teenagers a day or 30 first graders for 8 hours straight (I teach 10th graders and I tell you, it takes a special person to teach grades K-6), teaching is not for you. And while I would never want to deter future educators away from the field that I love (and sometimes hate so much), if you can’t take it on your chin a little bit, the teaching world is not the place for you. Teachers, while they may often appear sweet, kind and thoughtful…are some of the toughest people you’ll ever meet in this world. They take a lot of bullshit from a lot of bullshit people. And they bite their tongues when they’d rather just speak the real, honest truth.
Teachers have to multi-task. Have to. There’s a little bit of leniency with this requirement. If you aren’t a natural born multi-tasker, you need to learn how to do it ASAP. The best way to learn this is through experience. If you’re reading this and you’re still in college, you need to start multi-tasking right now. Chances are, you probably do some sort of multi-tasking in your every day life (texting while watching Grey’s Anatomy and eating dinner and listening to music while lesson planning and doing homework COUNTS). You just need to become really good at it.
You will not magically become some wonderful educator overnight because of student teaching/teaching internship/whatever your university calls it. It is not a Cinderella moment where you spend 10 weeks in a classroom with an adult holding your hand the whole time and voila! You’re wonderful. I wish it worked like that, but it doesn’t. I had a great mentor teacher throughout student teaching who taught me a lot. But student teaching is rough, y’all. Did I struggle? Yes. Did I cry? Yes. Did I think I was invincible and go out on a Thursday only to hate my life Friday morning at 7:30 A.M. when 30 kids came barreling into my classroom? Definitely (but this only happened once because you are now a professional and you have to knock that shit off). The sooner you accept that student teaching is rough because you’re standing on your brand new teacher legs alone for the first time, the better off you’ll be.
I’m writing this blurb having just completed my first year of teaching. I have so much to learn about life and education, but I can tell you this. Being a teacher is a blessing that not everyone is cut out for. But it takes someone with a big heart to shape the little minds of the future.