When I started my career as a student teacher at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona I was put in a fortunate situation of being placed in an environment full of veteran educators. My department chair, Brian Buck, gave me lesson ideas and advice; Judith Harper, an English teacher, was that calm, soothing voice when I needed it; and George Woods, possibly the greatest physics teacher I have ever come across, was the grizzled veteran that taught me the day-to-day survival skills every teacher needs. Without these people and many others, I would not be the teacher I am today.
Over the years, I have accomplished nothing on my own merit alone; I owe it to the network I built within the school community along the way. Because of that, one piece of advice I have been adamant about prescribing to teachers is to network.
This profession is odd in a way. Most careers purposely surround employees with people that have more experience in order to ensure their success, but in education that is commonly by happenstance. That is why it is necessary for new teachers to break out of their comfort zones and reach out to those around them. No teacher will reach, or even come close to reaching, their full potential in their first year because it takes time to learn from mistakes.
Furthermore, many of the new teachers I have met feel that every moment of every day must be some kind of magic show or the greatest, most inventive piece of instruction ever seen to measure their success in the classroom—I also have seen this expectation lead to self-doubt. This is why I also advise new changes that while it is important to be creative and imaginative when teaching, it is equally important to understand that sometimes the students will have to take notes or a quiz—and not every minute of instruction will be legendary.
Ultimately, I advise new teachers that it all comes down to building relationships with students. When students know that you really care about their well-being, the teaching eventually starts to take care of itself. I cannot tell teachers exactly how to do this because every teacher is different, but my method is to do my best to relate to my students by letting them into my life so that they can know who I am as a person. But who better to give advice to new teachers than students? Here are some adjectives my students told me when asked to describe a great teacher-
- funny (which could come in many different forms)
- passionate (necessary for teaching)
- relatable (connecting with students)
- dedicated (put in the time)
- caring (make it about them)
While it can be agreed that teaching in its current state has challenges, I am still so appreciative that I am an educator. The ability to make an impact on so many lives every single day is incredible. Being able to see my students years after they have graduated and learn about their growth and accomplishments makes going to work so rewarding. I cherish every moment, and my advice to any teacher would be to make sure they do as well.