I hated school growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I preferred being at school to being at home, but it was a place that I felt I was just waiting out until my ‘real’ life began. If you told me as a jr. high student that I would grow up to be a teacher, I would have thought you were nuts, and clearly did not know me that well. My dream was to go to university…to do what, I did not know, but I knew it was going to be great. And it was, I loved university. But secondary school was just a means to an end.
When I got to university, because I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, an academic advisor suggested that first I enroll in a generalist program and then volunteer in community agencies to get a better sense of what would be the right degree for me. I wound up volunteering with study buddy, a tutoring program where you are paired with one or more at-risk students. I found myself back at my jr. high school volunteering with students who were from my old neighbourhood. Many of the same teachers were still there and the culture of the school was very much the same. I thought I might have a different perspective on teaching and learning than I did when I was in school. What surprised me most, I did not.
The teachers I thought were mean as a kid, turns out still seemed mean as an adult. The teacher who made me laugh as kid, still made me laugh as an adult. What I liked about being in school, I still liked about it. As I worked with student after student, in a one-on-one situation, I realized that I could quickly see why they were struggling. As I was able to help them I felt good. I then began to volunteer in classrooms as well. I loved it. Walking around and watching kids, guiding them, re-directing them, stopping to offer assistance or advice, I could really see myself doing this. People told me that I was a natural teacher, and I started to feel like maybe this is what I was meant to do.
I moved into an Education degree and have never looked back.
What I remember most about beginning teaching was that first day, in my first classroom ever. After all my volunteering, paid work doing rec programs with the City, and years of university training that included 3 practicums, I still felt unprepared. As the bell rang that first day, I looked up for someone’s lead to follow, and what I found was that I was it. It was my lead that people would be following, it me who would be the deciding factor in how the classroom looked, felt, and moved through the year. The weight of that responsibility felt heavy on my shoulders. I have often said that the first year of teaching I felt like I had gone to war armed only with a water pistol. But like in all things, you learn and you grow, and if you are open to it, you get better over time.
People in the general public don’t often know or understand what it is like to be on “this side of the desk” and that sometimes is the hardest part about teaching. In an age of cutbacks, and criticism for teachers and education, I am grateful for people who speak up for our profession, who dispel myths of hour long lunch breaks and an easy 5 hour work day, and myths of money-hungry teachers who want more pay at the expense of students. In the decade that I have been teaching, the job has gotten harder and harder. Our understanding of what students need to succeed is getting clearer and clearer with more research and teacher education, and yet it is made all but impossible in today’s economic climate. Class sizes, underfunding, lack of community partners, and the overwhelming perception that teaching is more like baby-sitting than a profession has made the job of teaching well all but impossible. Yet it is the teachers who stand in the forefront of people’s minds as the culprit of a system that is headed in direction that will not allow teachers to do the best part of teaching. The part that allows them to know and support EVERY student on a personal level. To communicate effectively with parents and to do all of the necessary tracking and planning that students deserve. As a classroom teacher, I start my day, usually by 7:30, I don’t leave before 5 (at least 5 is the goal, but it is often not met) and even then I still bring work home with me, and I have to come in every Saturday for half a day or every second Saturday for the whole day. I rarely sit to eat my lunch or to have any kind of break at all in that time. I run from prepping and planning, to actual teaching, to meeting with students and/or parents, returning phone calls and then it is off to faculty/staff meetings. Most of the time, I spend the first week of summer just getting caught up on sleep, and the last 2-3 weeks prepping what I am going to teach, or preparing my classroom and/or learning materials.
Teaching is not what most people think it is…it is harder…it is so much more! :