If you ask anyone who knew me in high school, they will tell you that I was last person that they ever considered to become a teacher. As a student, I was complacent, defiant and extremely stubborn – a teacher’s worst nightmare. And that truth is that I only considered this job because there wasn’t anything else to do at that time. I liked being with children so spending the day with cute toddlers didn’t sound so bad. As it turns out, I was a natural with kids and at teaching. And since that opportunity presented itself nine years ago, I have never looked back.
Here are some of the things that I’ve learned along the way and hope that a teacher somewhere finds this enlightening and useful. I am nowhere near a PhD in Education but I’d like to think that being in this field for almost a decade has taught me somethings worth sharing.
1. Being a teacher is a lot like being a clown. Of course, intellectual stimulation is what sets us apart (or we hope it does), but whatever grade level one handles, a teacher knows that there’s an element of entertaining involved in this profession. Considering the dwindling attention span of students these days, it takes a lot of skill to keep young minds interested and engaged. One trick of the trade is to break down classes into “smaller portions” and to refrain from just doing one activity for the entire period. I’ve been breaking my classes into 7-8 minute segments and it works. Of course, the older they get, the longer they are (supposedly) able hold their attention span.
2. Never underestimate a student’s ability just because they’re younger. As a middle school Technology teacher, I’ve realized that most students have the propensity to excel in technology. The fact that they were born into this technologically advanced era makes it more natural for them to learn and manipulate programs and computers with ease. When a student is more proficient than I am, I take it as an opportunity to learn and empower someone else. Admitting that someone else is better than us is not admitting to incompetence. It’s admitting that we are human.
3. Children are the masters at thinking out of the box. Except, adults have the tendency of hindering this creativity and curiosity by saying things like, “No! That’s dirty!” or, “No! It’s dark out there!” Rather than allowing them to explore, we create fears in their minds that prevent them from moving one step further. So rather than saying, no, let’s allow our children and students to take that risk and make that mistake. Just make sure that when they do fall, that you’re there to hold their hand and catch them.
4. Choose your battles. Not everything is worth a 10-minute sermon. Kids will be kids and sometimes, you have to let some things go. A student accidentally leaving his bag on top of a locker doesn’t always deserve to be punished. Hey, we sometimes forget that our glasses are on top of our heads. Give the kid a break.
5. Kids can smell disorganization and inefficiency. Don’t believe me? Try coming to a class with half-baked plans and see how your students react.
6. Kids need structure. No matter how progressive a school claims to be, the students still need structure. Asking kids to line up is not a traditional approach. It simply puts order in a place where there are hundreds of fidgety and sometimes, hyper kids.
7. Be truthful. I’m all about empowering students and giving positive feedback, but giving a student a fall sense of self is just wrong. As a teacher we need to tell our students when they turn in lousy work, when their being arrogant or lazy or even when they need to put some deodorant on. At the same time, we should never hold back on praise where it is due. Everyone appreciates honesty.
8. The student’s well being always prevails. In this day and age where educational approaches develop as quickly as an iPhone, it is inevitable that people will have conflicting ideas on who knows best. Arguments will occur and tempers will flare, but at the end of the day, a teacher and an administrator will agree on one thing – the student’s best interest.