When I divulge to strangers—and I say “strangers” because anyone who knows me knows that I love my job—that I am a high school English teacher, I am typically met with skepticism such as the following: “You teach teenage brats all day? What is wrong with you? How do you deal with their attitudes? I would never subject myself to that kind of abuse!” This offends me because it suggests that I am nothing more than a glorified babysitter who supervises unruly teens for a living when, in fact, I do so much more. Furthermore, it is an absolute joy to watch my students’ goals come to fruition, and as an 11th and 12th grade educator I get to form relationships with students at one of the most exciting times in their young lives. The aforementioned strangers typically conclude the conversation with, “Well, it takes a special kind of person to teach high school kids!” And they are right. It certainly does. At times, teaching requires a kind of selflessness that is unmatched by any other profession that I know of.
The truth of the matter is that teachers are in the business of human beings, and teaching requires becoming a part of students’ lives and making connections that no other professional experiences. That’s not to say that teaching is all sunshine and rainbows. Teaching is incredibly arduous, and even heartbreaking, at times. I’m referring specifically to the instances when I care more about a student’s education—or even their well-being—than they do. Nonetheless, I believe that selflessness is required to make every student feel valued.
As for my classroom, I set high expectations for each student and I am unapologetic about this fact. Sometimes I push students to be better writers and communicators than they ever thought they could be; consequently, I hope they leave with a certain respect for me and my unwavering commitment to them and their success.
I believe that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Translation: I believe that the most valuable weapon to prevent classroom management issues is a solid lesson plan. Outstanding teachers aren’t mind readers, and they can’t anticipate every single problem that might occur in their classrooms; however, they can minimize the potential for such problems by engaging students from bell to bell. Effective educators have to be innovative and unafraid to try new things, and they must search relentlessly to find contemporary methods for making their content meaningful to students. I am a firm believer that students engage in troublesome behavior when they are not being stimulated, so I make a valiant effort to captivate my audience for the full 43 minutes a day that I have them. And in all honesty, some days are tougher than others. Nevertheless, this has implications regarding the importance of keeping up with trends in technology, as well as being aware of student interests. Ultimately, I believe that if educators form meaningful relationships with their students whilst demonstrating enthusiasm for their content, students have no choice but to be engaged and on task.
As for discipline, I do not believe in embarrassing or belittling students, especially in front of their peers. Moreover, I believe that one is far more likely to have a meaningful conversation with a student about class expectations and areas for improvement one-on-one. I believe that too many teachers discipline teens in front of their peers, which undoubtedly results in a public power struggle that teachers often lose. However, I have found that I am far more likely to have an authentic conversation with a student regarding behavior improvement if I do so privately. Furthermore, I always assure students at the end of one-on-one behavior conversations that, “Tomorrow is a new day.” I don’t hold grudges, and I continue to want success even for my most challenging scholars.
Unfortunately, one cannot enter into a discussion regarding “student success” without also mentioning “student failure.” Despite our after school program’s motto, “Failure Is Not An Option,” the fact of the matter is that students do have the right to fail. Nonetheless, an effective teacher inspires students to be their best selves, thus eliminating their desire to fail and, consequently, any apathy they harbor regarding academic success. Great teachers eliminate students’ desires to fail, and they cultivate classrooms that are full of contagious enthusiasm and energy—one where students want to experience success.
However, students define “success” differently. This was a difficult lesson to learn early on in my teaching career. As a former straight-A student and salutatorian, it took a significant amount of time for me to accept that some students are elated to earn a ‘C’ in a class. Furthermore, who am I to minimize that accomplishment if it is “success” to them? To some students, a ‘C’ is the pinnacle of success. That does not mean that I should not encourage them to strive for even better; nevertheless, it also does not mean that their personal victories are not worthy of celebration. Students are human beings, and they should be treated as such. Undermining an endeavor that they view as an accomplishment is dangerous territory, and I try to take that into consideration to the best of my ability when assessing students.
As for the public’s perception about teaching as a profession, I have always been incredibly offended by the age-old expression, “Those who can’t do, teach.” It suggests that anyone is capable of becoming an effective educator, and encourages that teaching should be regarded as a fallback career for those who cannot hack it in the real world. It undermines important criteria that are the cornerstones of education—pedagogy, standards, methodology, and content expertise. It connotes that teaching is a prison sentence of sorts, one that is the fate of those who cannot do something—anything—else.
The truth is that education is empowerment, and I am honored to serve in a career that allows me to empower and shape young minds. There is nothing more liberating than acquiring an education; as a result, I take my responsibilities as an educator quite seriously. Schools are a place where children experience that America is the land of opportunity, and I am fortunate to be a part of broadening their horizons. Therefore, flippant comments about teaching such as the aforementioned expression—not to mention highly inaccurate perceptions which undermine the importance of content expertise and methodology—have no place in conversation when I engage in discussions regarding teaching as a profession. Furthermore, I capitalize on every opportunity I have to educate entities that vilify teachers and/or undermine just how much we do to inspire kids each and every single day. Because the truth is, my teacher colleagues and I work harder than anyone else I know.
A quality teacher is so much more than someone who simply cannot hack it in the real world. I believe that a quality teacher is energetic and passionate about their content area every single day. They are experts in their field who, ironically, incessantly strive to learn more. They approach the start of each school year with an unparalleled zest and appreciation for education, one that rivals even that of the novice teachers in their buildings. They never stop learning because they are determined—obsessed even—with becoming the very best they can be for their precious students. They teach because there’s nothing else that would ever fulfill them. They value the education of other people’s children, people who might not value education themselves. They feel a distinct responsibility to cultivate an appreciation for learning in each of their impressionable students. Consequently, students look forward to attending their classes because they know that they will learn something new, and perhaps even have a little– okay A LOT– of fun in the process. This is what I strive for each day.