Are You Tough Enough to Teach?

Everybody and his pet rabbit wants to become a teacher. Around this time of year, at least three students tell me they want to become teachers. Later in the year, I often discover, more future teachers pop out of the woodwork.

With eyes that seem to look towards a utopia, these students tell me they want to teach. They tell me they want to share their love of Shakespeare. Biochemistry. The finer points of geography. And they want to inspire. They want to, through their gentle lovingness, spark the latent fire of intelligence and humanity in teenagers obsessed with spinners and dabs.

Some of my wannabe teacher students have less than noble intentions. They want summer vacations. They want to lecture from behind a desk.  They don’t know what else to do. These students – and the way they imagine teaching to be—make me laugh.

What I want to ask these future teacher students, but never do, because I don’t want to stomp on their dreams is this:

Are you tough enough to teach?”

That is the question no one asks.

Years ago, I thought that all I needed to be a great teacher was passion and love.

But I was wrong, and someone should have told me:

To be a great teacher, you must be tough.

If you want to be a teacher, ask yourself: Am I tough enough to teach?

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Research Says High Academic Expectations Work (And Your Students Want Them)

Back in high school, Sandra and I would hang out at lunch and swap our homework and our essays. And then we would edit in red ink on them for the fun of it.

The other girls wouldn’t bother us because they were at the mall buying Twizzlers from Bulk Barn, smoking Marlboros and spitting in the woods, or in the wild searching for boys.

Our kind of boys were so good at math they became school tutors. They, like us, stayed at school for lunch. And so, our high school lunches were spent primarily in libraries. There we edited our papers into shiny, beautiful things to hand to our teachers, or in the math rooms crunching numbers that we hoped would turn into a Pride and Prejudice– style love affair.

The numbers never were in our favour.

We may have miscalculated the probability of finding love among the math tutors, but at least we pleased our parents. Both children of immigrants—Sandra’s Chinese, and I’m Polish—we knew the importance of getting good grades. If we got good grades, our parents let us out of the house.

We made fun of our parents’ strictness. Sandra’s mom once locked her into her room to study. Each year, my parents bought me books of the What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know-style— a great “hobby for summer” my parents called these books. And then there was my mother, who made me write paragraphs explaining why I should be allowed to leave to parties and other events—if the paragraphs were good, I could go.

Both Sandra and I graduated at the top our class, won scholarships, and went to the universities of our choice. And I could write killer paragraphs.

Looking back, I’m convinced that we graduated at the top of our class not because we were better or smarter than the others.  But we desperately wanted to be better and smarter. And we wanted to be better and smarter because of our parents.

By expecting and demanding nothing but the best from them, immigrant parents give their children a priceless gift: the gift of high academic expectations.

We as teachers, in loco parentis, have the same power. In our classrooms, we can set expectations of our students. We can expect them all to learn and perform challenging tasks, or we can expect only some of them to succeed at easier tasks.

If you think you could raise your academic expectations, but you don’t know if it’s worth it or necessary, read on.

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You’re Not “Just” a Teacher–Self-Respect for Teachers 101

It’s the little things that chip away at your sense of self-respect as a teacher. The parent that screams at you over the phone at the end of the day because you disciplined his child. The parent who, across the table at a parent-teacher interview, tells you how to teach writing.  Another parent who has a gripe with you, and instead of talking with you, emails your principal.  The child who says, “My mom said that those who can’t do, teach.”  The strangers who call your job “glorified babysitting.” Or the child you tutor who tells you that in his home country, he had two teachers who he called servants.

Yes, all of this has happened to me.

I can imagine you have experienced these moments too. You have been treated by adults and children alike like a dirty rag to be pushed around. I know other teachers have been treated with disrespect because their words and actions are telling. All of it may have even made you reconsider teaching and made you say things like this:

“I’m just a teacher.”

I have to stop you there. You’re not just a teacher. You are a teacher. You direct, guide, scold, and embolden the future. You encourage the gutless in the gutters. You set high standards your students cannot even envision. You rile kids up and take bullies down. You make speeches and promises and you deliver. You analyze novels and poems so deeply that these poems and novels—and even parts of life—become understood.

 You are a teacher. That is nothing to be ashamed of, and it is nothing to hide.

To develop self-respect as a teacher, teach louder.

Don’t let anyone treat you like a dirty rag. Dress like a modern-day queen or king. Every day, prepare yourself for school. Iron your button-up shirt so firmly that the iron lines show on the arms. Starch your pants and brush the kinks out of your hair. Shine your shoes and look down in them to see your precious teacher face.

You are a teacher.

Respect yourself, and the rest will follow.

 

Please, Please, Please, for the Love of God– Dare to Be a Strict Teacher

I am a strict teacher.

If your child is in my class I have certain expectations for him or her. I expect him to be on time; I expect him to have his materials with him—no, he will not have time to visit his locker for paper and a pen; I expect him to be respectful and say “please” and “thank you”; I expect him to stay seated and quiet during my lesson—yes, I have a seating plan; I expect him to raise his hand when he wishes to speak—I would like to hear him speak; I expect him to have his homework done—yes, I assign and check homework; I expect him to clean up after himself; I expect him to never trash talk any student in my care; I expect him to put his cell phone away or kiss it goodbye;  I expect him not to whine, but to work.

I expect a lot from him.

Because I am a strict teacher, I have a lot of expectations.

Because I am a strict teacher, my expectations are often met.

Because I am a strict teacher, my students, in the process of meeting expectations, become better.

 All of this because I am strict.

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14 tips for surviving the first year of teaching– a letter to my first year teacher self

When I was a first year teacher now nearly five years ago, I knew as much about teaching as I do about the types of clouds or the kinds of rocks: I had a vague recollection of learning facts about these things in school long, long ago, but put me in a rock museum or ask me to describe the clouds above my eyeballs, and I’d be stumped.

As a first year teacher, my knowledge of teaching was academic. In teachers’ college, I had been fed from a trough of fun, impractical theories; I had viewed classroom simulations comprised of perfectly behaved adults who playfully mimicked rebellious teenagers; I drank Starbucks lattes and sucked on bonbons as my professors talked about creativity, fun, and social justice.  In short, I had no idea what hell awaited me.

Here is my practical advice for first year teachers.

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Why I’m a teacher (revisited post-graduation)

This is me.
This is me.

 Fresh out of teachers’ college, I still find this old post  about why I teach rings true…

WHY I’M A TEACHER

People react to my telling them I’m a teacher in predictable ways. They all seem to assume the same things: I must enjoy spending time with children, living vicariously through teenagers, teaching a pet subject, or lounging about during summer vacations. In small part, these reasons are true. Alone, though, these reasons are insufficient: I’ve only nodded along with these people’s ideas about my choice of profession because I haven’t the time to explain my reasons. It’s complicated. It’s too much to explain in one sitting to a stranger who asks the inevitable: “Whatcha do?” and “Why you doin’ it?” expecting a few words wrapped in a smile. Let me explain now: Teaching is like being a stream in a forest. I want to be that stream.

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