okay question specifically for my former teachers: How long did it take you for you to feel like you knew what you were doing in the classroom?
When I got home from parent-teacher conferences tonight & logged in to Facebook as I ate my TV dinner – #suchacliche – I saw this question at the top of my Newsfeed, posed by my student teacher from last year.
Julie was an excellent student teacher: had great rapport with the kids, assessed work really effectively and gave great feedback, scaffolded assignments, had decent classroom management for a 22 year old. But even with all of her strengths, this singular question suggests a deep-seated insecurity. And I know all too well where this question comes from.
I went straight through the educational pipeline, from high school to college to grad school to teaching. (It’s kind of amazing to me that I have not lived my life not on a school-year schedule since I started pre-school at age three.) I was 23 years old when I was responsible for educating low-track 10th and 12th graders, some of the hardest classes in the school. I flailed those first few years…
Year 1 was just trying to survive.
Year 2 was the worst, because I thought I had figured things out and everything was still hard, and I thought about quitting.
Year 3 went better – I got into a better routine, had a good mentor, and had more curriculum material to revise rather than create from scratch.
Year 4 was a rollercoaster of feeling confident and totally lost – I was questioned more by parents and students in the previous years, and although I had the answers to back it up, that constant undermining was rough.
I think I hit a groove by the start of Year 5 – finally, enough experience to at least feel like I actually knew what I was doing,
Of course, then I had K during Year 8 and it’s taken another three years to recover from maternity leave and find some semblance of mom-teacher life balance.
I guess what I’ve learned over the past decade of teaching is that I never really fully feel like “I know what I’m doing.” I will always have a brand new class to prep for, a set of students (or even just one) in front of me who will require me to rethink everything, a new PD class or book or conference that provides me with brand-new ideas, a new book I want to teach, a new assignment I want to try, a new part of myself that I have learned that impacts what and how I teach.
Our job isn’t picking apples or engineering machines; not to disparage either of those jobs, of course, but we work with changeable human capital. Most of us may never see the fruits of our labors – children who leave our classrooms at the end of the year, move away, graduate. Like doctors, our patients are ever-evolving, but we are tasked with curing ignorance and insecurity, operating on their minds, healing their souls.
How long does it take to become a good teacher? was really the subtext of Julie’s question.
Your whole life, I want to respond. Good teachers never stop learning.