I haven’t written many posts about teaching even though it’s what I “do” every working day. I’ve contemplated writing some posts about how to teach writing (essay, narrative, persuasive, etc) or how to lead a literature discussion, but I feel like most of my audience would not be very interested.
But, here’s a topic I hope you’ll enjoy reading about. These are my 10 reasons I am glad I became a teacher before becoming a parent:
1. Kids actually like structure: Having taught grades 6-12 in my eight years teaching, I can attest to the fact that most kids like structure. The younger the student, the more structure they need. Students, like many adults, like to know what to expect on a day-to-day basis. Think of it like this. Imagine every day, your boss had different expectations of you. That would make for a pretty unnerving, stressful job, wouldn’t it? As a teacher, I have very clear expectations and procedures for my students. I post a daily agenda, have homework bins in the same spot each day, and follow basic routines so my students know what I expect. As a future parent, I know that structure will be important for my kids. Now, I don’t mean that I need to plan out their day to a tee. But setting clear expectations for my kids about what kind of behaviors I expect from them, will make it a lot less confusing for them. And routines, whether nap-time, story time or bed time, will most likely comfort them more than make them feel restricted or confined.
2. Be consistent. Kids can spot a lack of fairness like a dog can smell a piece of meat. Now, I’m not one to tout the benefits of fairness. Life isn’t fair and I don’t want my kids to get the wrong idea. But, I do believe that the key to classroom management (or discipline) is to be consistent. Decide what matters to you and then enforce the rules consistently each time. The result of not doing so? Kids won’t take you seriously and behavior problems will abound.
3. Kids, like all humans, are fragile. It’s easy to judge a kid who is acting out. It’s easy to dismiss them or become bitter or angry. But I have learned time and time again, that there are things going on in kids’ lives that we can never even imagine. Case in point. I had a student who acted out and pushed the boundaries on a daily basis. I thought he was obnoxious and rude. Then I found out that his father had recently died. I took a different approach in my discipline with him, choosing to talk to him in a way that I intuitively felt might reach him better. Guess what? He stopped acting out. Now, that said, I would hope I would know my own children very well, but as all parents of teenagers know, many of them are moody for reasons they may not be able to fathom. And while hormones are not an excuse for bad behavior, listening to them and genuinely showing you care, can actually go a long way.
Me with three girls I taught my first year as a teacher.
4. Boys need good female role models. Having grown up with only a sister, I really knew nothing about how to raise a boy. As a teacher, I have found that boys, especially between 8th and 12th grade, need women to talk to who are mentoring, mother figures. I cannot tell you how many times I have had boys, ages 13-18 come to me for advice. Just like girls, boys want to be known and understood, but they often take a very different approach. Just this week, I had a young man say, “Mrs. Medley, you know so much about me!” I asked him why he thought so, and he said that the way I talked to him, made him feel that I understood him. I could tell he wanted people to know and understand him and that he thought it was cool that I had tried to get to know him.
5. Kids watch everything we do. I can think of another time that a young man (an 11th grader), asked me for advice with respect to some family issues he was experiencing. While we were talking, an adult (a colleague) came up to me and proceeded to talk badly about his ex-wife. After he left, the young man said, “See, all adults are screwed up! Except you! That’s why I want to talk to you. You are a good person.” Now, that said, I know for a fact that I am FAR from perfect, but what that interaction showed me is how careful we need to be about what we say in front of kids. They hear and judge everything we say and do.
6. Straight As may actually be bad for kids. Without meaning to, many parents force their children to be someone they’re not. By not allowing their kids to fail, this sends the message to kids that they have to be good at everything. JK Rowling, in her commencement speech at Harvard, explained that had she not failed at everything else she had tried to accomplish, she would never have even allowed herself to do what she was really meant to do on earth, which is write Harry Potter. I wish I had learned this lesson earlier in life instead of beating myself up over an A- or a B+ (God forbid!). I have had students so afraid to fail that they will cheat and lie to avoid doing poorly on an assignment. Instead of fostering good character, parents who pressure their kids to be perfect may actually be encouraging a weak moral character.
7. You don’t have to be friends with everybody. In a culture that uses the word “bullying” to describe any kid who is mean, we sometimes forget that YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE FRIENDS WITH EVERYONE. Come on adults! There are plenty of people in our lives that we have to put up with, but we definitely don’t want to be their friend. And the reality is that we do not need those kinds of people in our lives. Jerks are jerks, and we shouldn’t tell our children they have to be friends with everyone. You can choose your friends and your kids should be able to as well (as long as they are still respectful toward everyone, of course).
8. Every child is different, so you can’t treat them the same. Fairness doesn’t mean sameness. In the same class, I have a boy who makes ape noises and grunts as he tries to body slam his male friends in a sweaty male embrace, and another boy who is so fragile that he looks like he would break if you touched him. So when Boy #1 doesn’t bring his homework, I might say something like, “Hey, Incredible Hulk (my nickname for him), why didn’t you do your homework?!” I am straightforward, semi-mocking, and intense. Why? Because that’s what he responds to, and he feels most comfortable when I interact with him like that. When I talk to Boy #2, I pull him aside, away from any peers (so as not to embarrass him), and I ask him if anything is going on that kept him from doing his homework. I encourage him and offer to help him if he needs extra help getting back on track. Boy #2 needs that or he will turn red, start shaking, and potentially cry. So how do I know this? Well, it requires paying attention. Even in the same family, kids can be so different. Case in point, “Incredible Hulk” has an older brother who I taught two years ago. He was somewhat like his brother, but he identified himself as a good public speaker more than as an athlete, so when I struck up a conversation with him, I would usually ask him about his speaking competitions. Paying attention to what matters to kids is important.
9. If a kid doesn’t like what I like, it doesn’t mean they don’t like me. When I first became a teacher, I thought if kids didn’t like English class, they didn’t like me. Now, sometimes that’s true, but I have been amazed the kids who told me I was their favorite teacher even though they hated the book we read or the grammar they had to learn. I really hope my kids will enjoy reading, writing, and discussing “the meaning of life,” but I know that they also might not like that. They may like math (dear God!). Maybe they’ll even want to be an engineer (God forbid…lol…just kidding!).
10. The most important thing is that kids know you CARE about them. Teenagers can sense when a teacher is being genuine just as easily as they can spot someone who is disingenuous. My former students have come back year after year (in person or on Facebook) to tell me how I made a difference in their life. 9 times out of 10 that difference had nothing to do with what I taught them in English class. It was because I took the time to CARE. How do I show them that I care? Well, believe it or not, kids can tell if you put your heart and soul into your teaching. In my first year teaching, before I had no idea what I was doing, I still made an impact on some kids because I was trying very hard to do a good job, and guess what…that goes a long way. Kids don’t expect you to be perfect. They expect you to care.
When I left Reseda HS, a student, Kimberly, baked me this cake.