What Teaching Has Taught Me about Myself

Months ago I told a blog reader that I’d write about teaching and some of the methods I use. (Here are a few from an old post.) Weeks following that, I told a writer friend that I thought it might be an article entitled, “What Teaching Can Teach Us about Life.” When I met her again, I admitted that I was finding it hard to get started, not because I didn’t have anything to say; but because it felt like writing this article would be saying, “Good-bye,” a Dear John letter to a profession that has served me well, given me purpose, and taken all I had to give it.

Even watching those words form on my screen has me wondering if I’ve left the traditional classroom forever and if I’ll be okay if that is my reality.

If you are new here, you may not understand why I’m being so dramatic. Teaching for me was the necessary alternative to the foreign missions I’d always dreamed of. (That story here.) In the process of teaching, helping with the start of a new school, pursuing teacher’s education, and more teaching, it became my identity. “Oh, you’re one of the Lichty girls. Are you the teacher?” Yes, that’s me.

As long as I taught, I had a reputable career, one people knew how to talk to me about and lauded me for doing. “We need good teachers.” “You’re having such an impact on those young lives.” “You teach grade one? That takes a lot of patience.” “You teach grade seven? That’s a challenging age.” All of this feedback brings me to the first thing teaching taught me about myself.

My Work Is Not My Identity

Teaching is a career centered on performance: the performance of the students a partial reflection of the teacher. Teaching comes with trimester report cards and critics of all kinds: boards, parents, students, and lets not forget the person in the mirror. It’s hard not to take all this personally. Teaching comes with sweet notes and rolled eyes and effusive “thank-you’s” and emotion-charged phone calls.

Teaching Tip: Find your identity in Christ first and have something outside of teaching that you love.

Perhaps that is why I wrote so little about teaching in this space. I wanted an identity outside of teaching.

If I am what I do, then how people feel about what I do can either make me like or loathe myself. My success or failure becomes “me.” This is a miserable way to live. A few years into teaching I wrote these words, “You are always called to be before you do,” and I’ve spent the years since then learning how to believe them and live them.

I Love Helping Other People Grow and Taste Success

Any teacher who taught during that great-global-catastrophe-that-shall-not-be-named will tell you that teaching remotely stole vital things from our work. Most of us do the work because we love our students. Personally, I start a class with an objective and a general plan of how to get there; but I tweak, adjust, embellish, and review during class based off the immediate feedback of my students. This feedback might be a student gazing out the window, looking frustrated, asking a question etc. I go to great lengths to keep the attention of my students.

Teaching Tip: Require 100%–each student’s attention all of the time. Yes, it is an ideal and some days feels impossible, but it’s the number one tip I’d give to any new teacher.

Also, if you’ve ever been with me in a group conversation, you’ve probably caught on that I stop talking if someone in the group isn’t paying attention, and I want them to hear. Maybe one day I’ll outgrow this side-effect of teaching. Then again, maybe not.

I want my students to be able to do the work independently and successfully. I want them to know that they can succeed. Each student needs a different level of assistance to reach success, but each student is capable of growth. Nothing gave me more joy then seeing a class of students who had wrestled with a new concept bent over their books filling in blanks.

I am an Idea-generator

People who taught along-side me or talked with me at teacher’s meetings quickly got the impression that I’m some kind of over-achiever. That’s not the truth. What is true is that ideas come to me as quickly as thoughts. I can envision them, and I’m game to try them. I like nothing better than having someone come to me asking about a problem and wondering how they can solve it. “How can I make this Phonics lesson more interesting?” “How can I build a good relationship with this student?”

Teaching Tip: Your co-teachers, students, and other teachers are great sources of ideas. Use them.

I’ve learned over the years that this aspect of my personality can be intimidating. I’m learning to preface any suggestions I give with “this is just an idea.” I’m learning how to ask more questions and give fewer suggestions. Often times, in the process of asking teachers more about their situation, they would come up with some creative solutions themselves–most often less hare-brained and more interesting then mine were.

I Love Helping People Discover and Use Their Gifts

In my first year of teaching grade seven, I decided that I would give my students books as Christmas gifts. As I got to know the students more, I was afraid that they wouldn’t like them: they didn’t like to read. Still, I carefully chose books that I thought suited the personalities and interests of each student. I wrote them a little note inside. They said things like, “Because I know that in the end you’d do what is right” or “Because I’d admire your adventurous spirit and courage.” I read these notes out loud as I gave them the books. I watched in silent amazement as my worst reader blushed in delight. I did this every year I taught Grade 7.

In a perfect fairy tale, every student would have received the perfect book and read it cover to cover several times. That’s not my story. What is my story is the delight each student discovered in realizing, “I am this person, and I have something to offer the world.” My favourite moments were when a school mom would text me a picture, showing me a cake my student had decorated or a marble roller they’d spent hours designing and building or when that quiet boy from Grade 8 writing sent me a poem he’d written now for Grade 9.

Teaching Tip: Observe your students and find ways to invite them to share their thoughts and use their gifts.

For me, this meant asking my troubled student to fix a broken whisk as we made pancakes. It meant hosting a talent show. It meant writing notes in my students journals, affirming their thoughts and questioning them to go a little deeper.

I want to always be a person that enables people to pursue their gifts and calling. Teaching taught me this.

I am a Teacher

Ironically, teaching taught me that I am a teacher. I don’t need a classroom to be one. This seems to contradict my first point, but it’s a paradox that I’m content to hold.

The best teachers take you from where you are and lead you just a little further upward. The best teachers know their students, know their strengths, and ask just a little more. The best teachers teach from what they know and continue learning.

I want to know the people God places in my life and help them to grow just a little more. I’m not yet one of the best teachers, but by the help of the Master Teacher, I’ll continue to grow to be a better one.

One of the best things about teaching has been gaining a deeper understanding of Jesus as a Rabbi, who walked in dusty sandals and loved His twelve disciples, teaching them of the Father and of the Kingdom. He knows me. He knows my strengths and weaknesses. He knows the teachers I need to become the person He has created me to be, and I’m trusting Him to place these people in my life.

Now, I’m a curious. If you’re a classroom teacher, what tips do you have? What do you love about the profession?

If you are not a teacher by profession, in what ways do you still find yourself teaching? What “teachers” have had a deep impact on your life?

All’s grace, Yolanda.

14 Comments on “What Teaching Has Taught Me about Myself

  1. For any school Moms here I’ll share a few tips from a “used to be teacher,” now a “school Mom…”
    Tip 1: Pray for your children, their teachers, and fellow classmates daily.
    Tip 2: Don’t believe everything you hear about school if you don’t want your teachers to believe everything your children say about home.
    Tip 3: Communicate with your child’s teacher at least once every 2 months. Instigate contact too. Don’t let your teacher always be the one to do so.
    Always be kind and courteous.
    Tip 4: Refrain from giving trinkets, lotions, and washes as gifts to your teacher. She might have more then enough! Instead choose stickers, granola bars, and cash/giftcards,etc.
    Tip 5: If your husband is on the school board, this doesn’t mean that you can partially dictate how the school could be run. You can offer support, make suggestions, and do many other helpful things but resist sharing the juicy things you know with your sisters and friends.

    Still needing to learn a lot,
    Lynn

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh this is amazing! I’m afraid if I were to write all my individual thoughts down it would be another blog entry. 😉

    Many of your thoughts (Actually pretty much of all them!) echoed mine exactly.

    I truly believe teaching is a big work of the Heart. When given love by the Master, there’s so much more to go around. 😊
    Teaching requires:
    – Love
    – patience
    – flexibility
    – ability to explain concepts well in multiple different ways
    – humility
    – ability to connect well with people,
    – the Holy Spirit’s guidance,
    – prayer, prayer, and more prayer
    – creativity
    – the ability to lead spiritually
    – physical durability
    – emotional durability
    – athletics, art, and music gifts are a bonus!

    Overall, teaching has brought me so much joy and is one of God’s biggest gifts to me.

    It leads to lasting friendships, an eternal difference, and bright futures!
    God bless you as you move on to something different Yolanda!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So much of this resonated with me, Yolanda! Thank you for sharing. When I said no to next term, one of my best friends ( who was a co teacher for the past two terms), told me, “You’ll always be a teacher.” I am discovering she’s right. It doesn’t always look like a classroom–it might be sitting on the swings telling a city girl the story of Jesus raising a girl from the dead–but it’s still there.

    Like

    • Oh, sad to hear you are leaving teaching. Somehow it’s also a relief. I can struggle with feelings of guilt and disloyalty, which I know are not truth-telling feelings, but this helps.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hear you! I struggled with that a lot too, both before I gave my answer and afterward. But now I’m so busy with the next step of my life already that I’ve kinda left that behind. I think we have to realize we’re not married to the job.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I used to be a preschool teacher back in the 80s and 90 and loved it. I’ve been blessed to have many “teachers” who have an inspiration to me. From the blogs of godly women I follow to YouTube videos I’ve been encouraged in my walk with the Lord.

    Like

    • Oh, that’s neat, Regina. Preschool must present challenges and delights all its own. I’m glad you are finding good teachers in the online world, and I pray that God would give you quality teachers in your everyday life as well. Blessings, Yolanda

      Like

  5. Thank you for sharing this, Yolanda. I’ll miss working with you; I appreciate all that you shared with me in the years since you met me as an inexperienced, first-time teacher. I 100% agree that God never stops teaching us – blessings as you follow the path He lays for you in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yolanda, I love this. I loved having you as a co-teacher and have learned so much from you… I’ve learned that report cards can be fun… that teacher-friendships are important… that students are people worth discovering, even when all you can see is who they aren’t… I’ve learned that all the experience in the world doesn’t mean you won’t hit rough spots… and that it’s okay. Thanks girl! I’m looking forward to seeing where God takes you. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

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