Should I be a Teacher? What Should I do With My Life?

Recently, I got this message posted in my message-box on another type of blog I run. . .

advice - college majorThis poor person is in the same boat as a LOT of other 18-22 year-olds the world over, and I can empathize with their plight. SO, I am sharing a slightly-varied version of my response to them on this blog, in the hopes that it might be helpful to anybody who stumbles across my blog whilst feeling similar stress.

choosing a major

First of all: I’m to anyone who is feeling stressed about choosing your major or career path! I remember the struggle to decide what major to declare. First of all, remember that it is NEVER too late to change your mind. There’s this weird belief that once you pick a major your fate is sealed, and there’s no going back. But, even though there are some majors (like pre-med or pharmaceutical medicine) that you have to declare very early on and pursue all the way through your studies, it is never too late to change your mind later on if you find yourself unhappy with the career path you are on. Most people I know changed their major at least once. I also know people that switched careers after doing something for 10 years. It might not be the easiest path, but it is do-able. In light of this, my biggest advice is to try to pick something that aligns with both your passions and your talents, because that is where you will most likely find future career success.

passion and talent

On the other hand I 100% encourage picking a field of study that will result in a job or some kind of marketable skill set! We all know the stereotypical example of being an English major – which might be fascinating, but is not always marketable in a practical or direct way (especially not without further formal study). So, as you study your way along, periodically you should probably ask yourself what you’re going to put on your resume.

build a resume

Let’s do just that and take a critical look at teaching as a viable job option. If, like my forward-thinking message-friend, you’re worrying about the availability of teaching jobs before you’re in your junior year in college, I would encourage you not to worry about that juuuust yet. There is a certain amount of assumed job security in teaching (although it is not always accurate, if we’re being truthful with ourselves). Honestly, until the zombie apocalypse arrives and we’re all more focused on survivalist skills, there will always be a need for teachers. Even with Zombies, if it comes down to teachers v. zombies, my money is on the middle school teacher team. If they can thrive in a middle school, they can survive anything.

Jokes aside, though, there are a lot of teaching jobs, although not always where/when you want to work. Finding a teaching job can sometimes mean being flexible about the when/where you will teach, which can be hard. Another reason why you shouldn’t worry about this just yet, though? Any College Teacher-preparation program worth its salt will do their best to help you network and find a job post-grad.

Likewise, if you go to a school with a good education program and you want to be a teacher, you should not worry about the licensure test. Real Talk Time, friends. At this point, I have taken . . . four? maybe five? of these miserable exams. While they aren’t fun at all, they ARE do-able. If you have studied your subject matter and taken those studies seriously, you will be just fine when it comes to licensure tests that evaluate content knowledge and educator-knowledge.

One  last bit of advice about teaching and whether it is for you? If you want to go into teaching, then you should GO INTO TEACHING!!! But you should only do that if you LOVE (A) the subject you teach, and (B) people/students! Too many people get into teaching thinking it’s a “sure thing” or a “good fall-back” and do not realize that it is a job that requires a lot of heart and soul if you want to do it well. If you feel passionate about being a teacher, then pursue it full steam ahead and see what happens. I sort of fell into becoming a teacher and now I’m addicted – it’s not always perfect, but it’s still the most wonderful thing I’ve ever gotten to do!

teaching

Advice For Teachers

I’m not remotely a “veteran teacher” yet, but as I start off on year 7 of teaching, I have a few kernels of wisdom to pass along for those of you who find yourself becoming teachers. Or to those of you who need a refresher.

1- Most Importantly:  Enjoy it!

dancin chaperone

Enjoy what you are teaching, because then your students will enjoy it more, too. You probably already know that, but it bears repeating.

2- Second advice nugget (or maybe it’s part B of that last one): Even (and maybe especially) the kid that drives you INSANE needs some positive encouragement.

So, Enjoy your students. Try your best to find something to like/appreciate about each kid, because not only will help you be more patient with them,  it is vitally important for them. Maybe the most important thing they’ll get out of your class.

3- Remember:  Good Teaching is hard work.

So: work hard, but remember to use your resources (books/curriculum, coworkers, the internet, teacherspayteachers, etc) and not to stress yourself out too much over a failed activity or a bad day. Just strive to be better the next time.

4- Don’t let it go to your head: RESPECT your students – You are in a position of authority . . . so don’t be an asshole.

french sucks?

The worst teachers are the kind who abuse their authority to demean or belittle their students or perpetuate negativity. Don’t be that teacher. And if you have a bad day, which you are entitled to do because you are (contrary to popular belief) human, be up front about it. Tell your students “Hey, sorry guys, I’m having a rough day and I’m a little short on patience right now” – they deserve fair warning.

Also, if you (also because you are human) are a jerk and speak unkindly to a student or a class, apologize. You are not above apologies just because you are a teacher. Pull a kid aside and apologize to them 1:1 if you were rude to just them. Or, you know: Humble yourself and apologize to a whole class if you have to. Don’t let your role as a teacher absorb the nastiness that comes out of all human beings sometime and poison your classroom.

5- Fact: Your attitude sets the mood in your classroom.

Don’t underestimate this power. Wield it carefully, responsibly, and intentionally. If you can, set the mood firmly at JOY and go from there.

happy

6- I totally understand that it isn’t possible 100% of the time, but: Explain your reasoning for what you are doing in class!

Sometimes teachers give a directive that seems pretty pointless, but actually has a lot of purpose. Explaining the purpose of an activity can change the way a student views it/participates in it. I mean, you might know why you’re doing something, as a teacher, but the students might be sitting their like “wtf, this is dumb” unless you explain the actual reasons, at least from time to time! Now, whether it will actually help change students attitudes regarding classwork is also up to the student, but I think (sadly) teachers are prone to generally underestimate students’ intelligence – Give them the benefit of the doubt and help them see the why behind the what of the things that go down in your classroom.

7- Tip: Behave as if you are the only adult role model kids might have, because you might be. 

Hopefully, God willing, your students are from loving families that take good care of them and love them and help them grow up into responsible and healthy adults . . . but that is not even usually the case. Everybody needs stable role models – people to emulate. You might not feel confident about being that person, but you are in a position of visibility that makes it inevitable that people will look at the way you act/live your life. Please live accordingly.

8- Seriously: Don’t be afraid to have a good time in your classroom.

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LAUGH at things. We’re talking BELLY laugh. If somebody says something funny (and I do NOT mean unintentionally) then give yourself the freedom to bust out laughing at it! Laugh at yourself liberally. You are going to do ridiculous things as a teacher, and somebody might as well enjoy them!

9- VerbalizeSay the Good stuff.

If someone does a great job on something: tell them. If you like a student’s idea, tell them. If you think a doodle on a quiz is awesome: TELL THEM. Notice the good stuff, and do it out loud. I still remember some of the little comments that teachers said to me that made all the difference, even in something so little as noticing/complimenting my perfume. I also remember the bad ones just as clearly. . . so be cautious when you say the not-good stuff.

10- It might sound silly, but: Smell Good.

graduation

By “good”, I mean clean and pleasant. No need to drench yourself in perfume or cologne. Also: Morning breath, coffee breath, days without deodorant? Don’t let these happen to your students. They deserve better.

11 – It’s Time to Come to Grips: Accept the fact that you ARE indeed a nerd.

You are a teacher. You became a teacher. You teach. THUS, you are a nerd. And not just a little bit. You are a huge nerd. Stop apologizing. Embrace it. Own it. Be happy.

fernch

12 –I promise this is the last one, I wasn’t even going to write this many, but I have to in case anybody reads it: CARE

Just because a kid looks like they are doing okay on the outside doesn’t mean they are okay. Never type-cast your students as “lazy”, “slow”, “troublemakers” or “problem-children”. They are far, far, far more complex than some oversimplified label you might give them. You don’t know their whole story, and quite frankly: they don’t know you well enough to give it to you just because you’re their teacher. So, even if it’s hard, even if you’re sick of an attitude or behavior (which I do understand is rough – students sometimes act like you’re not human, and that’s tough to take in and not eventually dish back) please strive to AUTHENTICALLY care.

Offer to help a confused student. Or, if you can tell one student is having a hard time but know that they might be embarrassed to ask for help, find a creative way to help them out. Be understanding (careful, don’t hear what I’m not saying: this doesn’t mean be a pushover/giving up on all standards). Take a minute to express your sadness and empathize if a student shares that their pet died. Keep granola bars in your desk, in case somebody doesn’t have a lunch or missed out on breakfast. Ask if somebody is okay if they seem a little off – even if it’s just by writing them a note on a post-it and subtly sticking it on their desk. Just: be kind.

love is the answer