I was talking to my cousin this weekend, a sophomore in college who is studying elementary education and is in the midst of the university’s education program. I was asking him how his semester was going, and he expressed some concerns and stated, more or less, that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be a teacher anymore.
His concerns mostly stemmed from one class and one professor. The class was a literacy class and entailed a classroom-experience component in which each college student provides reading support to a first-grader. My cousin, if I can brag a bit, is an intelligent, creative, and laid-back guy who has a gift for engaging kids. This semester, though, he has felt really stifled by the professor who, in his opinion, only focuses on the students’ growth and the academic portions of the sessions. He continued to state that every portion of the lesson needs to be planned out and that there really isn’t any room for him to connect with the student or find other ways to engage him.
This narrative sounded familiar to me. After spending a few years in charter schools in New York City, I am accustomed to a regimented, academic schedule where every second of every lesson is planned to maximize student growth and achievement. And, in some ways, I get it. I understand the importance of having a good plan, of knowing how long different portions of a lesson should take, and of thinking through the little details.
But I also see the flip-side. I know the importance of connecting and engaging with kids. I know how important it is that kids feel heard and wanted and safe in the classroom. And I know how much this type of engagement boosts student morale which, of course, will also boost student achievement. In short, I know that successful teachers find the balance of both.
I can’t remember exactly what I said to my cousin, but I like think it sounded something like this: Yep, that sounds right. I’ve been there. And you’ll be there again, too. You’ll come across all sorts of professors and principals – some who only seem to care about academics and others who take a more whole-child approach. But right now, what matters is how you feel in those moments when you see a concept click for a struggling student, or when you do get to engage with kids and see that you and your ideas are capable. If, in these moments, you love it and want more – don’t give up on teaching, because we need more teachers like you. The fact that you can already see or feel that something isn’t quite right with this strictly-academic focus proves that you can succeed. Of course you’ll have to learn to navigate tough situations and learn to balance the expectations of your superiors with your own personal views. But trust yourself. Trust yourself and you’ll be great.
The jury’s still out as to whether or not he sticks with teaching, but, if he does and someday gets many teaching accolades, I’m taking credit.
What advice would you have given?