Veteran teachers always look back on their early years and say:
“If only I knew then what I know now about this profession.”
“I was so naive as a first year teacher.”
I think that to the high school senior choosing a college major, or the college student narrowing down their degree and really thinking about their future, the Teaching Profession is somewhat misunderstood. They only know the profession from the outside looking in. There are a lot of things about this job, as with anything, that you just won’t learn until you’re in the thick of it.
However, if there is anyone who can help these young adults make informed decisions and start out their career on the right foot, it is those of us who have a few years under our belts, and who have learned from our fair share of mistakes and experiences.
I had the honor of being interviewed for an article published by Best Colleges, and was able to offer some advice, insight and perspective to incoming teachers. Below are the Q&A’s of that interview.
Describe your philosophy of teaching
I believe that we are a very unique industry. We don’t measure success with financial currency. We have a different bottom line. It’s human currency. Our bottom line is kids. I believe the role of a teacher has changed tremendously in my career. We are no longer the “givers of knowledge.” We are facilitators of experiences. Empowering students is my goal everyday. I want students to direct their learning in authentic and relevant ways. I provide unique and engaging experiences for them to showcase their talents and to develop critical thinking skills. Every student should be more self confident and value their role in this world after coming through my class. Grow our kids, grow our currency, change the world.
What skills are essential to teaching?
If you’re in education, you love kids. That won’t always be enough. You will need to have a drive in you that refuses to let kids down. You will need to be relentless in cultivating an environment that makes you seek the best version of every kid that crosses your path.
It is real easy to get caught up in the negativity and drama that surrounds education and also the teacher’s lounge. You must stay focused on the goal: kids. Whatever it takes to make kids the focus is your job. They deserve the best version of you as well. That version does not let outside noise interfere in their education.
Kids mess up. A LOT! You need to make every day a new day. When they have that mistake, work towards equipping them with the drive to improve and grow. The next day… FORGET! Start each day with excitement and love. Some days will be harder than others. They are kids and they mess up. As a teacher, you get to help them find their way. What a job!
Don’t let the speed of our world go faster than you. Be up to date in your growth as a teacher. Constantly work towards improving yourself and your craft. Reach out to others and ask for help. If a teacher inspires you, get in that room as much as possible. Learn from them and let that inspiration help you grow.
What are some ways to keep students engaged with the material and interested in learning?
I believe that cultivating an engaged and empowered set of students is my goal. Therefore, my job as a facilitator of experiences needs to be intentional and purposeful. Engaging kids is my passion. A worksheet can deliver information. An immersive room transformation can inspire a student and open the door for more rigorous activities. It’s not about making a cute classroom or a Pinterest-worthy lesson. It’s about making relevant and exciting opportunities for kids.
I also believe that standards are not how we teach. It is what we teach. I want to find authentic experiences for kids to explore and think. Do they need to learn area, perimeter, and volume? Design and create a town based on those standards. Get tools and supplies in kids’ hands and let them create a three-dimensional town with roads and landscapes that allow mathematical application, creativity, and a solid understanding on how this skill is relevant! That’s engagement and that’s fun. They will love it!
Is it important to choose a teaching specialty? What tips do you have for students who aren’t sure which focus they would like best?
I am an elementary teacher but I have taught middle school and high school as well. I think there are a couple questions to ask yourself when making decisions about specialities and focus:
- What age group inspires me?
- Which age group do you connect with the most?
- Which age group brings me joy?
Thirty years and 180 days in each year is a lot of time. You need to choose the group that inspires you to jump out of bed and work with them. You need to choose the group that your connection level can make the biggest impact. You need to find the group that will make you smile and laugh as often as possible.
What makes teaching an exciting career opportunity right now?
You get to equip the future. Your role is so important. Every kid that enters your door has the potential to do great things. You can develop difference makers. You can inspire kids to see the world in all of its flaws and then desire to be a catalyst of change. You can be an agent of change. Kids need mentors and role models more than ever. You can be a hero to a kid who may not have previously had one.
What does continuing education look like for you?
I look for experiences and programs that are on the cutting edge. I want programs that are looking at what is coming and trying to meet those needs. I want a program that is taking risks with their philosophy and programs that challenge the status quo.
What software do you think every teacher should learn?
That is a tough one because in three months, it will change. That being said, Google products are the key right now. They can make your life so much easier and the apps that hook into Google are plentiful and almost always free. Teaching collaboration skills in a 21st century style works best within Google.
How important is networking and what are some easy ways to stay connected to other teachers in your community?
As fast as the educational landscape changes, networking is essential. Trying to be the expert in everything is impossible. You need branches that extend to your experts. Twitter is a game changer. I collaborate with people from New Zealand and Australia often. I learn from educators all over the world. Twitter is not a show-off platform. It is a place to connect and grow. Get a weekly schedule of three to five edu chats and be religious about attending. Read and learn. Chime in and inspire. Make a name for yourself in this profession and use that name to inspire and grow.
How do you stay up to date with the latest advancements and technology in the teaching world?
This is a real challenge. That being said, my district, Albemarle County Schools, has an amazing technology department and a layered team of instructional coaches. They are constantly learning, sharing, and presenting. Just last month we had a virtual reality, hands-on professional development. Twitter is also huge for this need. People are constantly sharing tools and tricks.
What are some practical tips to prepare for an interview?
I’m going to answer this one in bullet points:
- Reek of positivity.
- Make sure that everyone in that room knows about your work ethic.
- Be well versed in collaboration techniques used in the classroom and within a staff.
- Speak of your thirst for continued growth.
- Be ready to discuss how behavior management will be effective in your room.
- Mention all your extra talents that may be useful to the school (coaching, drama, etc.).
- Make sure they have a solid feel for your personality.
How should students prepare for student teaching?
Take it seriously. It is your only chance to get real experience before you have your own class. Ask questions all the time. Ask to take over as much as possible. Ask to watch other teachers and learn from them. Someday, you will come into a class and set your bag down. It will just be you. You need to be as ready as possible. This job is the most important profession there is. Let student teaching make you as ready as possible!
The moment you walk in that school, you are interviewing. Wow the staff. Wow the administration. They may just hire you or write the most glowing letter of recommendation ever!
What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
If you do this job right… If you treat it as a calling… If you come to school every day with the intent to inspire and cultivate future greatness, you will fall in love with the process. I love getting a new set of kids every year and starting the process. I love goal setting for every kid on how I/we can push them towards greatness. I love working with kids to embrace struggle and allow failure. I love seeing kids start to take risks and eventually value risk taking. The process is what drives me. What I find the most rewarding is being a part of every kid’s journey towards believing in themselves. When they believe in themselves, they start to see a greater version of themselves. When they see a greater version, the growth becomes exponential and their thirst for greatness is contagious. That is what I love!
I am very grateful to Best Colleges for reaching out and including my perspective in their publication. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think of my advice for new teachers. Does it help YOU as a teacher? If you’re looking for more check out my previous posts where I share many more thoughts on education and this thing we call teaching.