July 20, 2011

If I Knew Then What I Know Now - A reflection on my first years teaching

This post was inspired by an interview that I did for John T. Spencer about my first years in teaching. It was so interesting and such a good experience to write about that I felt compelled to share what I gave to him. If you have a chance I highly recommend you check out his blog, follow him on Twitter, even buy his books, they are great!

But, here's what I had to say:

1. What is one thing you wish you had known going into your first year of teaching?

It's hard to limit it to 1. There's a big part of me that wishes that I could have known that I could make mistakes, but I really wish that I had known that my master teacher could make mistakes. Second semester, under the advice of another teacher working at my school, I requested a transfer to another teacher. My original one was leading into a dead end and was trying to paint the picture that I was the root of the problem (sounds like bad teaching, right?). Considering it was my credential program experience I wish I had known that I could do more than grin and bare it. I wish that I had known that I should have come in with expectations that should have been met.
2. How has your philosophy of education changed throughout your career? 

That is HUGE. Reading your books has honestly been helpful. Education, when I began, was about feeding unwilling, ungrateful kids knowledge that they likely did not want. Now my philosophy has shifted - dramatically - to guiding my students in their exploration of learning and developing a love for the process. We often say that we teach the way that we learn best and not the way our students learn, but that wasn't even true for me. I taught the way I learned in college and, to be honest, I almost hated college. You won't find many people more cynical about the experience. I need to do better than that for my students by allowing them to do better for themselves.

3. What advice would you offer in terms of classroom leadership / management?
Classroom leadership is far more important than classroom management. Management is there when a correction needs to be made. Leadership guides students to make the right choices along the way, that way they need far less management. If you make students feel comfortable and respected they will feel more at ease to open themselves to their learning. Manage less. Even lead less. Let students take the lead. You'll be there to guide them to their path if they get lost (their path, not your path).

4. Why did you become a teacher? In what ways did the system either confirm these reasons or fight against these reasons?
I became a teacher because of experiences that I had in high school. I worked in my school's theatre department as an actor, lighting designer, set builder, you name it. Along the way I began teaching what I had learned to other students. It made me feel really good about myself and I couldn't get enough of it. I gave up lunch and after school time to do it. What is interesting is that 5 years of under grad and 1 year of college made me forget all of the brilliance of teaching - trusting students to make decisions, to understand through trial and error, to figure things out on their own. It took me 3 years of teaching and my PLN to figure it out again.

5. What were some of your fears going into your first year of teaching?  Were these fears valid? 
Fear of failure - it's always reassuring to hear that 50% of your profession burns out or gives up in the first 5 years. Invalid. I may not make it to year 5 at this point, but it's a job market issue. If I could afford it I would continue to teach for free.

Fear of disappointment - if I needed too much help, would it seem as I though I was ineffective? Would I get to keep my job if my humanity showed through? Invalid - I'm human, and EVERYONE knew it, regardless of my best efforts to hide the fact.

Fear of administrators - I didn't understand their purpose - and to be honest, many of them don't. Administrators should not be working punitively, they should be evaluating in order to identify areas for growth. Then, they should find ways to facilitate that growth. I just thought they were there to judge me. Therefore, whenever they were around I put on the dog and pony show. An illegitimate assessment at the time. Now when they come in I ignore their presence because what I'm doing with/for my students is generally too important to interrupt. Valid and invalid - depends on the administrator. Just like teachers, some are better than others.

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