A Schoolteacher's Musings

What They Never Taught Us in Education School … But Should Have

I’m just going to say right off the bat that of course experience is the best teacher. So even if they did teach some of these things in our teacher-prep programs, it still wouldn’t have made sense until we were in a real classroom with real students. But still … they could have maybe done a little better job in some of these areas.

1. Setting up a seating chart.
Oh yes, they made us make a diagram of how we were going to set up our classrooms – but they never talked about how difficult it would be to put together a manageable seating chart. Think I’m kidding? Just wait till you to put kids at table groups, but this one has to be towards the front because he has poor vision, but also he can’t sit next to that kid because they fight all the time. And please make sure to separate that girl from all the ones she causes drama with (which is half the class), and don’t put those two together because they’re friends and they’ll talk all the time. And you have to put all your low-focus, off-task kids toward the front so you can keep an eye on them, but you can’t put them all at the same table or they’ll never do anything. It’s like a logic problem on steroids!

2. How to mete out firm discipline to the ones who need it, yet still keep a positive attitude for the rest of the class.
We heard the saying “Don’t smile until Christmas” … but they never told us that there would be days when you’d have such difficult moments you thought you’d never feel like smiling again. And yet, you don’t want those discipline issues with just a few students to ruin it for the rest of the class who hasn’t done anything to deserve a stern teacher. And so you have to learn to smile on the outside when you feel like crying on the inside, and always end the day with a high five as they walk out the door. That should be a required class for all Ed majors … “How to Mask Your True Feelings 101.”

3. Conflict resolution.
I am serious when I say that not a day goes by without having to solve a conflict between two students – and mostly more than once a day. Why they didn’t teach us conflict resolution skills in college I DON’T KNOW! Because I feel like I spend half of my day doing just that – and teaching the children how to do the same thing. Compromise, let every party speak their turn without getting defensive or accusatory, don’t fold your arms, look me in the eye when you say that, change your tone of voice … how much I have learned in only a month from amazing veteran teachers who have been solving student conflict for years!

4. Along those lines … how to de-escalate an upset student.
Learning how to de-escalate an upset person of any age is a good skill to have, but especially kids. Knowing which things will push their buttons and make them angrier and which ones will get them to calm down and talk reasonably – I wish we had talked about that JUST a little more in my college classrooms before we were face to face with said students. Maybe they should have just given us a little cheat sheet of appropriate lines to use – when faced with sarcasm, when faced with anger, when faced with a disrespectful comment, when faced with a kid who just runs away from you …

5. Everything that’s not academic that matters so much in the classroom.
These kids spend six hours in your classroom a day, 5 days a week. It’s our job, then, as teachers, to create an environment that feels homey, where kids want to come, where they feel safe. Why were we never taught about having “morning meetings” or “workers of the day” or special traditions that make our classroom set apart? Good thing I had such an awesome master teacher who taught me all those things that I still carry on in my own classroom!

6. Flexibility
I am so glad I learned how to write a 15-point lesson plan. It made me aware of everything you have to think of when teaching a strong lesson. But, professors, you were right. I will never write one again as long as I’m teaching. Instead, I have to learn how to take a curriculum assigned by the district and figure out how to teach it – the week that school is starting because that’s when I got hired. Thankfully, through my practice as a student teacher, I do feel that I can teach anything at the drop of a hat [except for maybe high school math]. But the girl who tried to avoid as many science classes as possible in college is now “the science teacher” … and what do you know? She’s finding she’s loving it.

7. How to avoid burn-out.
They should probably have some senior seminars about the very real reality of a teacher’s life. How it can suck you in and consume all your time if you’re not careful. Because for a teacher, your job is never done. You’re always thinking about planning the next step, grading & analyzing the last step, and making it even better next time. It’s so important to learn to set boundaries – to step away from your work sometimes and breathe in different air than education air. You do need to commiserate and collaborate with other teachers … but you also need to do some things that aren’t so “teachey” all the time.

8. That you’ll fall in love … and never be the same.
It’s only been a month … but I care for my students more fiercely than I can articulate. Even the ones that can drive me up a wall. It’s such a blessing to have a job that makes me excited to get up in the morning and see what new adventures we’ll have together that day. Yes, I ache with them, but I laugh with them, I rejoice with them, and I learn with them. They teach me to see the world through their eyes, and I hope that I can open up new doors for their eyes to see. Just like my fourth-graders last year, these kiddos are putting their forever seal on my heart … and I couldn’t be happier.

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