Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Teaching is...

I wrote this way back in September to answer some interview questions a friend of mine had about being a first year teacher. It is interesting to re-read what I wrote as a wide-eyed, fairly fresh intern. I still share many of these same sentiments but I have accomplished so much and come so far since then! 


I chose to teach because I wanted a career that would feel rewarding. I see every day the difference that I am making in these kids' lives. I also wanted something that I knew I would never get tired of. Teaching is new and different every day. I never feel like things are routine and boring, because there are always things to be done, questions to be answered, and fires to be put out. It definitely keeps me jumping. When I got to BYU I almost talked myself out of it, thinking that I was just following a childhood dream, and not something that I still wanted to do. I thought about many different paths, but all of them led back to kids. I thought about psychology, and child counseling, I thought about school psychology, I thought about social work in the schools, and finally realized that my passion was with children and helping them to have the best future possible. The natural choice after that felt like teaching.

The thing I love most about teaching is the look on a kid's face when they finally understand a tough concept. I also love knowing that I personally am responsible for teaching kids super basic concepts like multiplication and division. These basic things that we know how to do, that we take for granted, and that are such an integral part of our lives...? They know those things because of me. I love knowing that I am making a difference in not only these kids' lives, but in every life that they are going to touch as well. I love the teachable moments that aren't necessarily academic ones. I love those moments where I am not just teaching them about math, social studies, writing... but also about life. I love knowing that I am teaching life lessons and showing them how to be not only good students, but good people. And I honestly love being their crying shoulder, knowing that they love and trust me enough to clue me into the more personal parts of their lives.
A specific example of this may be the other day when one of my boys was being so bad all day. He would not listen, he was talking back, and being openly defiant of me. I dealt with it all day until afternoon recess when I pulled him aside as the others were leaving to question him about his behavior. I asked him if he was being very respectful, to which he replied "no." I asked him why, and he said "Because I'm angry!" I asked him why he was angry and he said "because my dad won't talk to me!" At this point he just broke down crying. I was very grateful that I had asked him what was going on rather than simply reprimanding him, because that would have made the situation worse. Instead I told him I am so sorry that he and his dad are fighting, but that he should not treat other people badly when they are not the ones that he is angry with. Moments like these are powerful teaching moments, and I am glad that I can be there to be that positive example that kids need.
I think one of the hardest aspects of teaching, honestly, is pleasing every parent. Things that work for one kid don't necessarily work for another. I have one child in my class that is severely ADHD and the family refuses to medicate him. That is their personal decision, but as a result, I feel like I am giving this particular child way more attention than is fair to the others, because I am always having to attend to some inappropriate behavior or checking that he is on task or even attempting to get his work done. I have tried countless strategies with him, and I just feel like no matter how hard I try, I am just not getting him where he needs to be. I had been trying to get ahold of his parents for a few weeks and they were not responding. Realizing that I wasn't going to get any help here, I decided to try collaborating with his past teachers, and with some of the other 3rd grade teachers at my school. After this I finally felt like I had some good ideas, and was trying to put them into practice. That very day his father called me, terribly upset that I had been communicating with the mother instead of him, and got mad at me for nobody communicating with him about his son. He was upset that I was sending his kid to one-on-one reading instruction with a reading aid and claimed that "it should not take more than one person to educate his child." He was also upset with some of his sons behavior problems that I "could not control", informed me that I must not be strict enough, and because I was getting reading help for his child and could not eliminate his behavior problems that I was "obviously not doing my job right." He attributed this to my first year teacher status. He was very rude, and his comments quite uncalled for. He raised his voice with me and gave me an earful for 10 minutes, and then hung up without letting me come back with anything or try to get to the bottom of things and figure anything out. After this phone call, he decided to give the principal a call and let him know exactly what he thought of me and my methods. The principal sided with me, but it was still an emotional experience for me. Negative parent contact is the worst, especially when they do not try to actually see the full picture. You can only do so much for a child, and when you feel like you are truly trying your best, giving it every effort you can, and the parents are still not pleased, that's when it gets tough. Parents do know their children better than their teachers do, that is not even a question. But.. Parents do not know how to teach like teachers do. They have not had 4+ years of training for it.  Along those lines, I don't know how to parent like they do. We each have our specialties, and I believe that they should stay separate.
Now that I am actually teaching, I think I am more confident in my abilities as a whole. Lesson planning and grading, and everything like that is tough and incredibly time consuming, but it is not as challenging as I anticipated. However, when it comes to reaching each individual student, I think I am slightly less confident. I did not anticipate such a wide range of abilities all in one classroom. Sure, they are all the same age and in the same grade, but I teach 3rd grade and I have students in my class at anywhere from a 1st grade reading/writing level to a 5th. It is tough to make sure that my instruction is developmentally appropriate for every child. I don't want to lose my lower kids, but I do not want to bore my higher kids. There are also those kids that will ask for help when they don't understand, as well as other students who will silently struggle. They will never approach me or ask for help with anything, because they are either too shy to talk to the teacher/authority figure, or simply don't want me to know that they are struggling. Because of this, finding that balance and making accommodations for every child is a huge challenge.
I think that my teacher program was fairly effective in teaching me how to teach, in theory. It taught me all of the needed content knowledge, and many helpful strategies. However, I think that something as all-encompassing as actually teaching really only comes with sustained practice. I did have hands-on opportunities. I did 2 month-long practicums, but that was in someone else's classroom. I was only teaching a few lessons a day. I was responsible for the grading for those lessons, but that was it. Now I am in charge of everything! Grading, planning (for all day, every day), parent communication, and really, truly knowing as much as possible about each kid and where they are/should be academically, emotionally, and socially. My hardest struggle with my first year of teaching is classroom management. This is something that I am constantly being encouraged to improve on. I had a 3 credit class my junior year at BYU called "Classroom Management", and I got tons of great ideas from it, but once again- this is definitely something that you really just learn by doing. In practicums I used someone else's management system. The kids were already used to it, so they responded to it. Coming up with my own and successfully implementing it has been difficult.
I fully believe that teaching is a profession. Obviously I'm a bit biased, but I can't stand when people say it is not. Teaching is a career that requires specialized training. Not just a few months, but at least 4 years of it. It is one of the fastest-changing fields, so it requires professional development and training quite often. Teachers need to stay up to date on new technologies, and the ever-changing new and best practices. Teaching is also a job that isn't just a job. It's my whole life. I am at school from 7:30 to 6 almost every day and after that I take things home with me to grade and plan. Work does not stay at work. When that much of your life is devoted to something that you've trained so hard for I would definitely call it a profession.
Teaching is being busier and more stressed than you ever thought possible, but so rewarding.


I see every day what a difference I am making in these children's lives. Not only in their academic abilities, but their life skills as well. Regardless of tough situations and a tough class, I really have loved this year and I love this profession. :)
♥, Meagan

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