I admit I am still pretty new to this whole teaching thing. I’ve been at it a little less than 2 years. I’ve only taught in one private all-girls high school. I have no academic training in this field. (Unless you count journalism as helpful in composing tests and reading papers.) But at the same time, I’m realizing more and more every day that I really had no idea what it’s like to be a teacher.
Naively I thought it was about presenting in front of the class, imparting book-based knowledge in a fun and attractive way, making and grading test, and controlling the students so they don’t run wild in the classroom and all over the school. I watched a couple aunts as teachers and saw them grading endless tests, even helping grade the multiple choice questions. In grade school and high school I was also really observant of my teachers. And from that little experience, I thought I had this teaching thing figured out.
But the secret I’m learning a little more every day is that teaching is really not about the lesson plans and grading. Sure, that makes up a part of what I do every day. It takes up a large part of my summer as I plan for the year ahead. But when I look at my every day, my time is consumed by things that have absolutely nothing to do with lessons and grading.
Why Teaching Isn’t Really About the Lesson Plans:
It’s about juggling. I have to figure out how to balance lesson plans, classroom time, student needs, administration queries, parent emails, grading, research, organization, heck, even watering my plants. Its hard to keep it all straight and prioritized. The balance is a struggle and sometimes it’s almost easier to let the balls drop than attempt to keep them all swirling in the air.
It’s about being a ring leader. Keeping a classroom of students at different intelligence levels and with different learning styles engaged is no easy task. Most days you’ll find me pacing up and down aisles, making funny faces, changing my voice, and always talking loudly. Beyond the classroom, as a teacher I’m also wrangling classroom stragglers using my favorite ‘where are you supposed to be?’ question. I’m helping to coach middle school soccer, like last year, or attempting to get a Newspaper club off the ground.
It’s about being a counselor, without a degree. This one perhaps is the one I found most surprising. I would say at least a quarter of my every day is filled with students who just need to talk. Whether it is a some big life drama, an amazing test grade, a friend problem, a word of encouragement… every day is a little different, but every day brings a fresh set of triumphs and heartbreaks to the lives of my students and therefore to me. I’ll admit that while I didn’t realize I would be playing this role so predominately, it is also my favorite role of all.
It’s about being good on your feet. I’m sure part of this comes from the subject I teach, but I imagine any subject, except maybe math, is filled with the dreaded ‘what if’ and ‘why’ questions. On one hand they are awesome to hear because it shows the student is really thinking and analyzing what’s being said in class. On the other hand they can be downright scary. Answering just right in a way that is clear, concise and concrete is always a challenge. And when they ask questions that I can’t answer… that’s the worst.
It’s about being a cheerleader. One of the things that I forgot about my own high school experience until being back is that so often teenagers are unsure or themselves, afraid of making mistakes, fearful of the opinions of others, highly emotional and confused about so many things. It takes a lot of positive reinforcement, kind words, smiles, positive attitudes, etc… to help them through all these bumps and dips in the high school years. For a teacher, it means being a cheerleader for their successes and for their learning moments (which probably seem like a failure to them). One of my students loves to analyze her days as wins, loses and ties. Her goal is a win, but if it’s not that kind of a day she in the midst of she shoots for a tie. I love that way of looking at the day and encourage others to do the same.
It’s thankless. Ok, not every day, but most days I find this job to be one in which very little praise and kind words are given to a teacher. Good thing that is not the be-all, end-all to life. Seeing how my students often take things for granted, it’s made me think back with some shame to my days as a high schooler and how we as a class and I individually treated my teachers. It always boggles my mind how a bad grade somehow reflects poorly on the teacher, while a good grade shows the students prowess in the subject. At the same time, having talked to other teachers, I know that really my students are pretty amazing on the thankfulness scale – they almost always thank me for class as they walk out the door and greet me when they walk in.
So what do you think, fellow teachers? Is your job really about the lesson plans and grading? Or do you agree that teaching isn’t really about the lesson plans?