I am a teacher, so I had to weigh in on this prompt from the Daily Post. Here’s what I’d say to those considering becoming teachers.
- Resolve yourself to the fact that it takes a long time for learning to take place, and that knowing what you have learned is the last phase of the learning cycle. 99 percent of your students will never be consciously aware of how you contributed to their development as human beings. You will become a vague recollection that they glimpse in the rear view mirror as they hurtle on toward their lives.
- Remember that no matter how normal a child looks, how normal his parents look, remember that underneath all that appearance a seething bed of danger could be lurking. Every child in your classroom on a given day may see your room as the only safe haven. At some point in your career you will become aware of the child who goes home to stare down the mouth of a volcano each night, maybe foodless, maybe parentless, maybe bathed in violence and fear and drugs. When you become aware of this child, try with all your might to sleep at night.
- You will spend some of your own money to provide for your classroom. Just get over the injustice of this fact and do what you have to. A child who comes to school without a pencil is not your enemy. He just needs a frickin’ pencil, so find a way. That kid needs you, he needs you more than you think, and he may not hear another kind voice all day, so make sure you distinguish yourself with your kindness.
- Resolve to say positive things when you can. If you have a class of 30 and all but three of them are going ape shit, then say, “I appreciate the way you three are paying attention.” Go to Burger King and ask for one of those crowns. Put it on someone’s head. See what happens. If you have to, make your words to students generic. “I know you can do it,” trumps “You haven’t turned in your homework for the last three weeks, so I know you won’t turn it in now.” An even better thing to say is, “What is keeping you from doing your homework? How can I help you get over this hurdle?”
- It’s not about you. “I taught it, but they just didn’t learn it,” doesn’t fly. The words you say don’t flutter from your mouth on golden wings and embed themselves into your student’s cerebral cortexes. They need to hear it, say it, write about it, read about it, and practice it. They need repeated exposure to ideas and concepts, they need to try new skills and fail; the mistakes they make need to be viewed as opportunities to learn. Get out of the way and let them do. You be the guide and facilitator. It’s about your students, and it’s not about you.
- If you have to make a choice between teaching content and loving your students, choose love. Here’s an example. There’s a big brouhaha in the cafeteria at lunch. Three-fourths of your class witnessed this traumatic incident, which involved cigarettes, a stray dog, and a prolonged girl fight—everyone knows those are the worst kind. When class starts, four of your students are in the office, half of the girls are actively crying, and the boys are white-faced and silent. Now is not the time to say, “Okay, let’s continue with the pluperfect tense.”Pull out a book and read to them. Turn the lights down for five minutes. Sing them a song. Change their state before you talk to them about something as trivial (to them) as grammar.
- The only reason to teach the pluperfect tense is to see a need for the lesson based on what your students and their work indicates. If someone outside of your classroom is telling you you must teach the pluperfect tense regardless of what your students need, then make your room like a speakeasy. Teach something meaningful and relevant. When an observer walks in to your classroom, say, “Students, please take out your workbooks on the pluperfect tense.” When the observer leaves, get the fun stuff back out.
- Teaching is not something a person should do to get a paycheck. Children are hard, hard work, and you can make more money doing something else. Teaching is a calling, and should only be attempted by those who cannot see themselves doing any other job.
I don’t know if these pieces of advice will make you a great teacher or not. I do know that what I say might help you persevere in one of the most difficult and rewarding jobs a person can do.