education, Teaching

Advice for Neophytes

As a profession, teachers have one of the biggest and most diverse clientele base to serve to. Some teach highly autistic children (a very admirable choice) while some tend to focus on more gifted students—a more, ahem, “typical” choice. Regardless of their selection or position, many teachers can easily empathize with a plethora of different situations among students, and almost all can recall their first year as an educator, either with nostalgia, disgust, or a grotesque combination of both. Though the personal experience of every teacher may be different, our burdens, responsibilities, and post-happy hour hangovers are all very relatable.

Hence, our ideologies are as varied as our practice, but still breathe an air of familiarity no matter which teacher we talk to. The following is simply a culmination of my own ideology after my first year of teaching. Many teachers will read it and find many amicable points, while some may scoff at my innate skepticism of the kindness of children. And outsiders of the teaching profession may call me demonic, but I hope I can at least convince them that the profession of being an educator means sometimes becoming the devil to inspire the good out of my pupils, as oxymoronic as that sounds. Nonetheless, I hope all at least get a good laugh out of my accounts, even if it is at the expense of my misery.

One piece of advice I always give to new teachers, especially those my age, is to “always put yourself first.” I then relish in a few different reactions from humorous perplexity to outright horror before providing some context for my words. “Teachers” I explain, “are responsible for both the education and well-being of anywhere from 10 to 200 students. Therefore, teachers have to be consistently functioning optimally.” Along the journey, most 1st year teachers (save a few lucky ones) will find their beings stretched thinner than they thought possible. The well-intentioned, individual on a quest to save all children will obsess about how to get Jacob/Mara/Jose/etc. back on task and behave like a proper student and the not-so-well-intentioned will also obsess about how to get Jacob/Mara/Jose/etc. back on task and behave like a proper student.

They may be berated by an unsupportive administration who secretly question their capability while hypocritically telling them to rely on the administration team and devote even unconscious hours to thinking about the job. They will try a multitude of different approaches tirelessly because one thing must work out of the hoard of different educational books printed within the last decade. And of course, they will fail because their students have already formed a weak impression of their teacher that’s on the brink of insanity.

What a lot of hopeful teachers mistaken about their first year is that the goal is simply survival, and I say that in all seriousness. I tell them to preserve their mental health, their physical health, and even their spiritual health. Stressed? Hit the gym or a spa. No time to eat? Munch on food during class. Need to meditate or calm your mind? Implement some post-lunch nap time. No time for any of this because you have to grade homework or because it’s unfair to students? Fuck the homework. Lose it “accidentally” and give them all A’s. Eating? Your classroom, your rules. You’re the teacher, they’re the students, period.

Do not stress about losing class time because for God’s sakes, there will always be a kid that’s behind. Lose all the class time necessary to make it through the year. The most important in that classroom is you and you alone. It isn’t little Ann, Sade, Ariana, Bryson, or Ramon. If they fail on something, they get a red mark and another chance. Never forget that children need failure, but also teach them to overcome it. However, if you, as the first year teacher, fail something, it is your butt on the line. Or worse, if you break mentally, you’ve ensured that every child under you has failed for that entire year. Worry about yourself no bigger picture.

Bluntly speaking, kids are stupid, at best, and beasts without a conscience at worst. And perhaps the most stunning thing is that no one will believe you unless they’ve been a teacher. Parents will underestimate your competence because they’ve raised such a “fine specimen” to contribute to society, so why can’t you? Even our current (as of 2017) education secretary, Betsy Devos, used that as a qualification to lead all of the United States’ Education (more on her later, but ponder that for a moment). Even non-parents will belabor that teachers should stop complaining because they get summers off and that anyone can take care of children. Bull Fucking Shit. It is infuriating to hear people belittle an educator’s job just because they’ve babysat, tutored, or had to volunteer at some event that dealt with children. Taking care of a child or 3-4 children that you may have some relation to is dimensionally different from leading a class of 40 hormonal teenagers, who do not know or respect you and definitely do not want to be there.

And no, you don’t have any real leverage. Remove from clubs? They don’t participate in any. Call the parents? Parents don’t have time or fucks to give. Fail the kid? They’re going to get passed up anyways because no one wants them there. Suspension? No way, that’s money lost due to how attendance works. So in the end, you have a mob of creatures with underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes that you not only have to manage and keep safe, but you must educate successfully as well, sometimes within the span of 50 minutes or less per day. If you can’t, then students will have no remorse about having their way in the classroom. Like the saying goes, “if you don’t have a plan for them, they’ll have a plan for you.”

Before I get angry emails and death threats, I should clarify my position on the previous paragraphs. There is one essential caveat to all my cynicism—you must keep trying. It seems like paradoxical advice. Keep trying, but half-ass your teaching? Yes, because teaching is a never-ending marathon, not a sprint. A teacher can not burnout before the year ends. Your students may only see you 45 minutes a day or all day, but wasted time pales in comparison to a burnt-out teacher. It’s easy to think otherwise—to believe that your youthful exuberance can carry you through any amount of work because goshdarnit, every child WILL become excellent under guidance.

Yet, the continuous 60-80 hour work-week, the lack of confidence from superiors, and the entire ungratefulness of certain students that seem to fight you, sometimes literally, even though you’re trying to help and teach them how to be a proper human being, or at least pretend to be a proper human being, so they’re not staring down the barrel of a gun…those things will erode you and your ideals, and above all, your hope. No teacher can give 120% all the time, not without sacrificing parts of themselves as a Faustian bargain, so please believe me when I say “put yourself first.”

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.— Aristotle

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