Editor's Note: Today is National Teacher Day and we wanted to take a moment to spotlight a teacher who has spent eight years in the classroom forming young minds. Teachers are amazing and often get far less credit than they deserve. Here at H&L, we're proud to recognize just one teacher making a difference. Here she tells us what she has learned about life through teaching.
I once had a parent tell me that teachers are like a third parent. I rather liked that, not only because it’s true, but because it gives weight to a role that many take for granted and readily criticize. Teaching also has the power to transform you, just like being a parent can.
It’s safe to say that I’m not the same person that I was prior to entering the profession. And the ways in which teaching has changed me is probably something that I can’t fully recognize, or see in myself, because it’s the kind of job that becomes part of you. Needless to say, I’m going to try anyway.
Even though I participated in theatre both in high school and college, I didn’t have the confidence that I do now. True, a lot of this comes with age, but I think some of it comes from having to grow up fast when you are responsible for children. There is a great deal of problem solving that has to happen right in the moment and you are in front of the classroom. You’re asked to lead and so, step by step, day by day, you do it. As a result, I’ve learned that I’m far more capable than I realized.
• WORDS HAVE WEIGHT
So use them wisely! Amusingly, I quickly learned that the young ones blank out when you talk too much. Adults have a tendency to lecture children when a few choice words or even a look would do. I feel like I’ve gone from a chatterbox to a person who listens more, who listens carefully and who uses her words sparingly. I’m actually quite proud that my “teacher talk time” is spot on. As Yoda once said, “Control, you must learn control!”
• PLAN FOR PLAN B
When my lesson plan goes smoothly, when my students are laughing and learning, I feel unstoppable. But when things fall apart because the students are having a difficult time understanding, if the energy is low, then I have to think of an alternative activity in the moment. Repeat this many times, because you have to expect the unexpected, and you start to flex this muscle and gain strength. As a result, I’m not afraid of things going wrong as I’ve learned to work through it or around it.
• IT'S OKAY NOT TO KNOW THE ANSWERS
I think when we are leading a classroom we feel this pressure to know everything and that’s simply not possible or realistic. I no longer get flustered when I can’t think on my feet quick enough. I don’t feel stupid for not knowing all of the material. You can’t always anticipate questions or when the workbook is confusing. Sometimes, my students let me know what the answer is or if we have hit a snafu, I’m perfectly fine in saying, “I don’t know. I’ll get back to you.” It’s a relief, really, to be able to give yourself time to figure things out.
• DON'T TAKE THINGS TOO SERIOUSLY
Seriously. I’ve watched myself get wrapped up in school politics and classroom dramas and what I’ve learned is a desire to avoid it all. Of course, there are times you need to get your hands dirty, but generally speaking I think our imaginations have a tendency to get the best of us and we spiral into anguish when it’s just not necessary!
The first school I worked at was such a place of fretting and worrying. Then time and time again, I’d witness how a problem sorted itself out or that we worried needlessly over how the children were behaving and micro-analyzing everything. There is really something to be said about taking a breath, a break and gaining a fresh perspective on the situation.
• TREAT EACH DAY WITH EQUANIMITY
I don’t really go crazy over good days or bad days. I try to maintain an even keel. I suppose though it makes me look like a passionless person, but I feel quite the opposite. I think swinging high and low, letting experiences, external forces toss you about is an excellent way to burn out on life. Of course, this is harder to do on bad days when I want to wallow in self-pity, but if I engage in a good book or another equally healthy activity, I find myself feeling kinder and gentler – and moving on.
• IT'S ALWAYS BETTER TO NOT GET ANGRY
Generally, getting angry doesn’t solve issues. And bottling it up doesn’t do any wonders either. I would know. I’m a great bottle-upper. Experience has taught me though that venting can even be taken the wrong way and taken quite personally. I’ve also learned that the angry person is usually the one that is looked down upon, no matter how justified they might be.
Getting angry with my students is another no-no. If I do get this way it’s because I’m sick, tired and fighting for energy. I’m much more likely to let go of the reins these days, not take things personally and know that the next day I’ll get to start over again.
In honor of National Teacher Day, you can read Lani's book, The Missing Teacher, for free.