By this time next year, I will be a college graduate. I will have a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education, with a middle school certification. I will have paid and passed my Praxis exams, been fingerprinted and FBI-approved, and donned an ugly, bulky graduation gown to walk across the stage of a very expensive private university. Go Yellow Jackets.
I will hopefully (please dear God) have a job… a teaching job, not just extra hours at the restaurant. I will hopefully be doing DIY projects and angering my husband with charges on the debit card to The Learning Post. I will hopefully have a professional wardrobe finally built up to my liking. I will hopefully not be internally freaking out about my impending career as I am right now.
When I was 18, I was very confident in my skills and potential to be a great teacher. The last two hours of every day of my senior year of high school were spent in a kindergarten classroom, where my main duties were organizing snack time and escorting students to the bus at the end of the day. Sometimes I hosted Show and Tell. I had also worked three summers at a summer school/day camp, where I wrangled 8-12 first grade kids by myself. I opened a lot of popsicles and developed a very efficient, assembly-line method of applying sunscreen to all of them in less than 5 minutes.
When I graduated high school, I was convinced that I only needed to go to college to get that piece of paper. I had nice handwriting, a love for reading, and an interest in working with kids, after all; that’s all you need, right? I was excited to further my education, but not necessarily because I thought I’d learn a whole lot. I thought that I would be able to impress my fellow future teachers with my vast knowledge of how to handle small children.
Sometime during the second semester of my freshman year, I very carefully dismounted my high horse. I knew nothing.
When my professors asked me to write a philosophy of education, I made at least five different drafts before finally settling on one. How can you reduce all of those vast, important ideas onto one sheet of paper?
I didn’t know.
When my professors asked me how I would present an English-based curriculum to an English language learner, I was stumped. How can you possibly begin to teach fifth grade language arts concepts to a student who may be very bright speaking their native language, but has the English vocabulary of a first grader?
I didn’t know.
When my professors asked me what I would do for a child with behavioral disorders that was still experimenting with medicine dosages and was so drugged up that they could barely stay awake in class, I was baffled. What could I do? How could I possibly help that poor child, or explain to the other children that this kid got to have nap time, but they didn’t?
I didn’t know.
What would I do for a child that comes to school with bruises? What would I do for a child that is bullied every single day? What would I do for a child whose parents refuse to let them be evaluated for special education? What would I do when a child told me that they hate me, or that I’m fat, or that I’m ugly or stupid or mean?
What would I do when I became a teacher?
How will I evaluate students? What will my behavioral management plan be? How will I achieve a student-centered classroom that also complies with local, state, and national standards? How will I intrinsically motivate students to work and achieve success? How will I teach them not only English, math, science, and social studies, but also how to work collaboratively and think critically? Or, depending on the grade, how to tie their shoes or handle their first period?
How will I do anything?
These questions don’t even scratch the surface of doubt (and hope) that I carry around in my backpack, nestled right against my chevron pencil case. I worry about the political aspects of teaching, the social anger and resentment, the high hours and low pay, the constant pressure from everyone who is not a teacher saying what is and is not the most important thing to focus on. Budget cuts. Drop out rates. Joni Ernst. Kids who, at age eight, look me in the eye and say “I hate school!”.
The good news is, I’m figuring out the answers to these questions. I’m learning how to deal with these obstacles. I’m not at a total loss.
The point of this post, I guess, is to convey the sheer amount of craziness that teachers have to handle on a daily, or even hourly, basis. My 18 year old self is dismayed that teaching is not all about good handwriting and reading books and being nice. It’s messy. It’s hard. One month into my field work placement this semester, I’ve already cried about a student because I have no idea what to do for them. I enter the classroom at 7:45AM with enthusiasm and a little bounce, and I exit the room at 3:45PM wilted and exhausted.
I think- no, I know- that a lot of the freshman in the education program think similar things that I did at 18; that all they need is that piece of paper proving that they can teach. “I ran a Bible Camp, I can totally do a classroom; what’s the diff? Bring it on.” Their confidence is admirable, but naïve.
I printed out a quote to slip into the cover of my school binder; it’s from a Maya Angelou poem. “I have learned enough now to know I have learned nearly nothing.” It reminds me to stay humble. Stay curious. As the weeks pass, I feel more ready. But I’m still learning. I’m always still learning.