A Teacher Tells All

Here it goes- let me present my teaching heart on my sleeve. Enjoy!

On my Instagram account, I asked people what they wanted to know about teaching- from questions, comments, curiosities, etc. I had so many amazing comments and inquiries and did my best to narrow it down.

I could talk for hours and hours about this profession. It is a passion of mine (lol, clearly)- and although it might seem like I wrote a lot.. I feel as if I am barely scratching the surface. Bottom line though, I love this crazy, exhausting, and rewarding job of mine.

Here it is! Thanks for reading.

What is your teaching philosophy- in one sentence- go!

Teach students how to think, not what to think.

Every kid needs and deserves a high quality education and high quality love.

….Oops- two sentences, oh well… 🙂

Was there an “ah-ha” moment that led you to becoming a teacher/ wanting to pursue this career?

Honestly, no, but kind of? I think I had a bit of an unconventional calling towards teaching. My mom and my grandmother were both teachers and my whole life I was so against the idea- it didn’t interest me. I loved learning, but never loved school. Although, I also didn’t dislike school. Long story short- I wanted to go into occupational therapy. That’s what I had my eyes set on for a long time. I studied Psychology during my undergrad years and it wasn’t until I was completing an internship in Cape Town, South Africa- where I was shadowing an OT at a school for children with Autism- that my educational and teacher spark ignited. I found myself loving the time that I got to interact with the kids in a classroom and learning setting, more than I enjoyed pulling them out and working one on one as an OT. That was when I finally thought to myself, “Oh shit- I think I want to be a teacher.” I chose English because I have a deep passion for writing and the power of words, but more importantly, I think teaching English opens the doors to so many other avenues of conversation. The last thing I will say, and what I think the main reason many teachers go into teaching, is not because we like the current education system and want to be a part of it, but because we see the flaws and inequities in the system and want to change it.

Despite the struggles, did online teaching bring any changes that you think should remain for the better?

I love this question because I feel that, in general, everyone is focused on everything we have lost throughout this pandemic. But I think what has kept me afloat all year is the fact that I have been focused primarily on what IS working, not what isn’t.  I have realized how “paperless” school can be, and I plan on continuing doing a lot of our learning as virtual as possible- even when I have my full class of students back in front of me. Better for the environment, and as high schoolers, a little taste of making sure they are tech ready for our ever evolving tech focused society. I also think this year has demanded that we think even more creatively than we already do, and I enjoy that challenge, and hope to carry that mindset into the rest of my career.

What suggestions have your kids made that you’ve implemented successfully?

Oooh! Okay, so at the end of each quarter I have my kids fill out a survey which is alllll about feedback for the class. I take what they say to heart and try to implement as many of their ideas as I can on how to make class better, no matter how wild. Usually they have a project or assignment that we did that they liked the best and ones they liked the least, and I try to tweak my curriculum to have more of the “enjoyable” assignments fill up our days. I also don’t really give extra homework, which is partially because students always ask for no homework, but also because I have not seen homework be super beneficial to students’ actual learning. The funniest and most recent request is to get LED lights streamed throughout our room- I am working on it.

What jobs do you occasionally day dream about switching over to after teaching?

It is no secret that I love to write! So in my dream world, I would be a full time writer. On the reallyyyy crazy days, I day dream about any job that doesn’t require you to be “on” for 8 hours a day, or where you aren’t interacting and responsible for the educational, emotional and physical well being of nearly 150+ people every day. My extroverted self comes out as a teacher, but I think I would thrive at a job that requires less extroversion. 

Teachers are way underpaid, under appreciated, and deserve more support!

HA! Say it louder for the people in back. Thank you. I agree on every level. There is so much to be said about this, and I think if anyone disagrees then, respectfully, they really have no idea what they are talking about. And… that’s okay. I don’t expect the average person to fully understand what educators *actually* do. I think people believe they know what the job of being an educator entails because everyone has gone through our education system to some degree. But just because I have been to a doctor’s office doesn’t mean I can then perform surgery. I have known and witnessed many talented, intelligent, and amazing teachers leave the profession solely based on these reasons (underpaid, under appreciated, and lack of support). The term “recovering ex teacher” comes to mind- and I have had friends leave teaching to pursue becoming lawyers, therapists, and medical professions in hopes it will be ‘easier’ in terms of pay, support, and appreciation. 

What do you do to counter burn out?

This is probably the  most complex and most important question. The short answer- I don’t have a good answer. The longer answer: You have to find what your boundaries are and if the way you are teaching, or the way you are being treated, crosses those boundaries regularly, that is a recipe for disaster (I’d say this for ANY job… not just teaching). Teaching asks SO much of us, every single minute of every single day. It is also a profession that NO one understands, unless you are an educator. You won’t get kudos for the amount of work you put in. Teaching requires a flexible mindset and a willingness to try again and again and again. I believe that if you take things super personally or are rigid in your practices, burn out will creep up on you. Of course, the most important repellent of burn out would be to build relationships with your students. Getting to know my students and their hopes, dreams, and passions is the highlight of my job, and so that is what I focus on nurturing- them as people. I try not to let the curriculum or standards stress me out. I also think it is so important to truly work on having a healthy work-life balance. The work is NEVER done as a teacher, you could arrive at school at 6 am, leave at 6 pm and go home and still choose to work for multiple hours. There is always something to do. So deciding how you are going to balance that amount of work with the other parts of your life is vital. For me, teaching  is a part of who I am, but it is not my whole identity. I hold onto that ideology.

How many hours a week do you actually work?

I am not sure there is a real solid answer to this question. Contractually, I work 41 ish hours a week. So if I were to only work my contracted hours… there is your answer. Ha. However, I don’t know many teachers who ONLY work during their contracted hours every day. Some days I might. But there have definitely been weeks where I have come close to working 70+ hours (LOL to the weeks where I am grading 180 five page essays). I would also say I am good at creating boundaries with my work life and home life- I know some teachers who work 50-70+ hour weeks every week… and to them I say.. Hey hun.. Don’t do that to yourself. 

You have almost 8-10 weeks off a year, right?!

Every district is different! For my school district, teachers get “5 weeks of summer” and “4 weeks of breaks throughout the year- Fall, Winter, Spring”. I put those in quotes because once again, I know very few teachers who don’t work during those weeks. Some might and that is great! Well deserved. I wish I was there. However, most teachers I know have at least one other side gig or part time job. For example, I tutor part time, and teach yoga part time. I have also taught summer school in the past. So on those weeks “off” (which we are not getting paid for- we are only paid about 10 months out of the year), I am, in fact, still working.

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

There are so many ways I could answer this! Which is a blessing. Watching the students discover who they are- for real- that is THE highlight. Seeing them become more confident not only in their school work, but in who they are as a person takes the cake. I love my content (English), and I love watching students “get it”- but it doesn’t compare to the process of getting to know these kids and hope that something I said or some interaction we had has impacted them in some positive way. 

Where do you draw the line of adding in your personal opinions about certain topics?

This is a good one. So, I stand firm in teaching my students how to think, not what to think. However, if students ask me my personal opinions, especially at the high school age/level, I will usually be pretty honest with them. They know I am an open book. I explain my opinion and support it with evidence to back up what I am saying and why I believe in whatever they asked about. It demonstrates critical thinking skills in real time for them, and models the skills that we need to make sure our students leave high school with-the ability to be open minded, think critically, challenge their own ideas as well as others, and be curious about why they think the things they think. 

To piggyback off of this idea though, many people think that politics don’t belong in the classroom. I highly disagree. Our lives drip in politics, whether you want to believe that or not- but staying out of politics is a pretty privileged stand point to take. So, if they don’t belong in the classroom, an educational, and mostly objective setting…where we ask for deep critical thinking, fact checking and evidence based answers- then may I ask where DO politics belong? 

What do you wish you knew about the profession before you went into it?

I think first and foremost, you will never understand the demand of teaching until you are literally thrown into it, with your own kids, your own class. Student teaching and going through my Masters program was insightful and… important.. ish. However, it didn’t teach me how to handle all the demands of teaching. That comes with practical experience. This job is also ALWAYS changing, no hour is the same- which makes it extremely fun and absolutely exhausting.

What does the general public not understand about teaching?

Most teachers pour their heart and soul into their job. We think about your students all the time. We are expected to give each child our full attention and teach to their level- but we have 100-200 students to do that for daily. Also, just because you attended school doesn’t mean you know what a teachers job actually entails. I usually tell people that the actual act of TEACHING my curriculum is about 10% of my job. The other 90% are all the other responsibilities we have. 

I would also like to try to explain it like this:

Imagine your job is to give six 1 hour presentations every single day. Your presentation has to be engaging, enriching, and you have to reach every single audience member. If they are bored or do not understand what you are teaching them, it is then deemed your fault. You also get one hour a day to prep for those other six hours, which means you will definitely be prepping beyond your contracted hours. Any materials you need for your presentations you will have to buy with your own money, and in addition you not only need to make sure you are teaching your audience content, but you are also responsible for whether or not they are behaving appropriately and have good social emotional skills. 

That’s a pretty watered down version of what we do. But hopefully give a*little* perspective.

Least favorite teaching moment?

I honestly can’t think of a specific least favorite- but all of my less than desirable moments have involved students whose needs were greater than I could comfort in the moment (students experiencing PTSD or homelessness or trauma and bringing that into the classroom). During my first years of teaching I felt a bit hopeless in these situations, wanting to help more than I was actually able to. Next would be negative parent interactions. I am lucky to only have had a few of these, but I once had a parent scream in my face that I wanted their child, and probably all of my students, to fail. In the moment I was in disbelief, now I can look back on it and laugh a little bit. I can stand firm in my truth and authenticity, that if there is one thing I am as a teacher it is caring, empathetic, and supportive. During the hard moments, I reflect back on what my truth is and the good I am trying to do.

Favorite teaching moment?

Everyday I have a new one! This job literally provides the highest highs (and the lowest lows). I would say a general favorite is just that I try to laugh with my kids daily. But more specifically, some of the overnight trips I have been on with students stick out as favorites. There is less pressure about the day to day content, and more wiggle room that allows us to see the students outside of a classroom setting. It’s so fun.

Words of advice for new teachers?

  • Find time to laugh with your kids every single day. No matter what.
  • Try early on to not bring too much work home with you. I know it is hard. But try.
  • Not every single assignment needs grading. Ha. First year me did that… she drowned.
  • Steer clear of negative colleagues. There will always be people complaining about everything. The occasional venting is fine, and probably necessary, but constant complaining… toxic.
  • Come back to your “why” as often as you can. The day to day can get messy, but if you can stay grounded in your “why”- I think you will be just fine.
  • Just as it is in life, everything is temporary, the thing that is SO DIFFICULT to handle, juggle, work through… it will pass. You’ve got this.

Above, I am speaking all from my own personal experience and opinions. I cannot speak for every teacher, although I do believe I speak for many. It’s a bit of a long one, but I truly enjoyed answering all of these! Thank you for the questions.

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