How We Grow As Teachers

Jun 29, 2021

When I began my first year as a teacher, I thought I had the bulk of what I’d need to be successful. I thought this is what college was for and all of those education classes on pedagogy, classroom management, and educational theory were about to pay off. Student-teaching was a way to sharpen that sword I forged in school, and in my first year as a teacher I’d be ready to wield it in the classroom.

Then my first year as a teacher actually happened.

Suddenly Lev Vygotsky’s educational theory was not helping me deal with a student who told me to “**** off.” That lesson plan I designed for my college class that was supposed to get my students to stand on their desks like the ones in Dead Poet’s Society, fell as flat as my face in my pillow each night after a day in the classroom. In my first year, I felt beaten down by parents, administrators, students, and more than anything else, by myself. I learned that teaching is way too complex to simply master after a few years of college or from well-intentioned textbooks.

Looking back at my first few years in the classroom, much of it felt like a train wreck.

Of course, there were ‘wins’ sprinkled throughout, but much of those first couple years were in the trenches dealing with conflict after conflict. There was no separation between my work-life and my personal life, and I often carried the weight of my students’ lives home with me each day. I was constantly buried in papers to grade, lessons to plan, and emails to respond to. I didn’t know how to quiet a classroom, teach a grammar lesson, or even keep a classroom organized.

Then something happened around year 3.

About halfway through my third year in the classroom, I started to finally find a groove. I began to regularly meet with a veteran teacher who taught me this trick about how to get your class’ attention without raising your voice. Those notes I’d taken when activities failed came in handy as I revised them and started seeing students truly engage. I stopped dreading parent-teacher conferences as I learned how to use them as highly effective ways to get parents on board with what I was doing in the classroom. After a couple years of working in the trenches, I was starting to really grow as a teacher.

Every year of teaching has taught me new ways to become a better one. Sometimes I learned tricks from other educators who graciously shared their secrets of the trade. Other times I obtained them from teacher-books and professional development. But most of what I’ve learned has come from experience. Failed lessons, heartbreaking moments, shining victories, and simply time has given me the most wisdom to use in the classroom.

This is why my teacher friend who has been in this profession for over 40 years approaches her work with a grace and confidence that I can’t comprehend even now. She has spent the past 4 decades refining her craft and humbly trying to grow every single year.

It is through challenges that we grow.

So, if you are a young teacher and you feel like it is taking everything you have to keep your head above water, know that there was a long line of people who came before you who have experienced the exact same thing. Take heart knowing that wisdom comes from experience much more than textbooks, and the more experiences you have, the wiser you will become.

That’s just the way it works.

And if you’re a teacher who has been doing this awhile and you feel stuck, like you aren’t growing anymore; like the fire and passion has waned, perhaps you need this reminder: you aren’t alone in that either. Life is full of peaks and valleys, and valleys are often hard to be in. We want to always be at the summit where the air is clear, and the view is beautiful. However, growth happens down in the valley.

Realize the undeniable fact that your greatest wisdom and strength comes through challenges. Sometimes, it’s about developing this mindset that recognizes that. Not that a growth mindset will instantly make your challenges disappear, but it will help you overcome them. And when that happens, you will be a better teacher.

Check out my new course, “How to Thrive as a Virtual Teacher.”

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