Mar 2, 2014
Comments Off on Four Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Teaching

Four Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Teaching

The other day, I was talking to a friend about becoming a teacher. He wasn’t interested in becoming one, but he started asking about how I made the decision. To be honest, it was one of those things that just happened. When you are studying English literature at university, the career options often start at English teacher. A few years later, I was standing in front of a group of grade ten students teaching Australian history on my first practicum in teacher’s college.

I never processed through the implications of the choice before the choice was made. I’m more of a jump-first, react-second type guy.

Now that the first phase of being a new teacher has faded, I have an opportunity to reflect on the things I’ve learned and the things I wish I knew.

Here are the four major things I wish I knew before I started teaching:

1. The job never stops.

Everything I hear on the radio, every book I read, and every conversation I have, my mind is processing for the contexts of the classroom. I strongly believe that being human in the classroom allows for more connection and stronger community, that’s why everything I do outside of the classroom is analyzed and considered. It’s not straining or stressful, in fact, it’s enjoyable.

The other aspect of the job never stopping is that there is always something to do. Feedback, planning, polishing, whatever it is, it always hangs over. Even through the summer, whenever I’m on vacation, I’m thinking about how to do things better; thinking of ways to tweak and innovate.

It’s like many jobs in this fact, but something I didn’t anticipate at all.

2. Rarely do you know if you are successful.

When I was in sales, I knew when I had a good day. I knew when I had a good week or a good month. In teaching (even more so in high school), seeing the payoff of the work is almost non-existent. Sure, you may see a kid develop their writing skills or speaking skills, but the real goal is to help develop a whole person. That impact is often minimal by any one teacher.

There is no real mechanism that evaluates your effectiveness. There is no metric that proves efficacy, which then leaves teachers swinging at fences. We talk about having success criteria for student learning, but there is none developed for teachers. That in itself is fine, but it also leaves teachers waffling somewhere between success and obsolescence. With no method of receiving feedback or meaningful assessment, our idea of our own success is measured with wet noodles.

3. Dealing with colleagues is harder than dealing with students.

I thought dealing with the hormone-injected, clique-crashing, teenage angst was the challenge of being a high school teacher. The reality, for me, is dealing with colleagues is often much more challenging. I’m a firm believer that most teachers are there for the same reason I am, to make the lives of students better today than they were yesterday. However, dealing with the school, union and personal politics has pushed me to learn how best to work with others.

In the last few years, I’ve made a concerted effort at trying to understand the perspective of all involved before moving forward, however, I still often find myself being told my actions have caused a series of unfortunate events.

Generally, my reaction is to keep moving forward and keep creating space for my ideas/opinions. However, challenging ideas is sometimes taken as challenging the person. The challenge of being aware of my own ego and avoiding the conflicts with colleagues’ ego is on-going. My learning continues.

4. The system is broken and everyone in the system knows it.

The biggest thing I wish I knew before I started was that the system is broken, everybody knows it, but because we can’t agree how to fix it, we keep perpetuating the broken system. The “tried and tested” is considered “non-negotiable”, regardless of the lack of true evaluation of the methods. There are too many people with too much invested in the system (despite its broken-ness) to see real reform.

And it’s not that it is broken. It’s that everyone knows there are flaws and yet, nothing. It’s frustrating when you come across an obstacle and it is only an obstacle because of an arbitrary decision that was made years ago.

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Despite all these things, I stand by the fact that education and teaching is dynamite. Going into the profession, I wish I was fully briefed.

What do you wish you knew before you started teaching?

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