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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.