Lessons… And Not Just For My Students

Two weeks went by very quickly, even if the days were long.  Even so, I feel that the knowledge I have gained and the experiences I have had in this short period of time have definitely helped shape my approach and attitude toward teaching, and possibly me as a person, too.  Coming here, into an unfamiliar setting, teaching at a school full of strangers and then coming back to live and go to class with a different set of strangers was daunting.  I was uncertain about what to expect, and my uncertainty only grew when my mentor teacher told me I would be teaching a class this week.  I prepared myself as best I could, looking over the information I needed to teach, making a lesson plan, and controlling my anxiety over teaching in front of a group of kids I knew next to nothing about.  I was scared, and to be honest, I didn’t really want to do it.

Well, today I gave my lesson.  Not once.  Not twice.  I taught three different classes.  The lesson was a test review for the students’ last test, which is tomorrow.  I had to cover a lot of information, from the Enlightenment through the Scientific Revolution, and on through the American, French, and Latin American Revolutions.  I had to end with the Industrial Revolution.  That’s a semester’s worth of information to teach in a class that has been cut short already by morning testing, in a building with no AC on an eighty-something degree day in front of students who I had only known for a few days.  I didn’t even want to be there, so imagine how they felt.  However, as soon as I started, I was fine.  I had planned my lesson well, and was comfortable in my knowledge.  I was able to guide them through most of the information they needed to know for the test tomorrow.

So I survived three lessons, right?  Wrong.  I did more than just survive them.  I learned from them, and adapted my teaching style.  As I ended each lesson, my mentor teacher gave me feedback, telling me what the students did or did no respond to, what they seemed to like about my teaching and what seemed to turn them off.  By the time my third lesson rolled around, I was almost letting the class teach itself.  They were connecting one historical event and effect to another, and all I had to do was give a little bit of correction or prompting here and there.  The notes almost wrote themselves.  I felt like I was really able to get through to that class, and that they took a lot away from the lesson.

I had talked at least a little bit with almost all of my students, and talked to the class as a whole comfortably as well.  I asked them to help me give them a good lesson, and I really think they took that to heart.

If I could put a face to my feelings...

Eventually, my terror at the idea of teaching relative strangers evaporated, turning into a crazy adrenaline rush when I realized that I WAS TEACHING!  I also realized that these weren’t total strangers I was teaching, and I had been building relationships unconsciously from the beginning.  I knew names, faces, and who to make sure had enough time to copy notes.  When three o’clock rolled around, I got cut off with about ten minutes of class left.  I was reluctant to leave because the class was being so awesome, but I left and let Ms. Kendrick take over.  I must have had the biggest, silliest grin on my face

when I was leaving the building, because the security guard couldn’t stop laughing at me.  I had faced my biggest fear about teaching, in possibly one of the toughest environments I might ever face it in, and I had overcome that fear and taught effectively.

My experience with Ms. Kendrick taught me a number of things.  Not only is it important to believe in myself and my abilities, but it is also important to believe in my students and their abilities.  Just because they don’t respond to a certain method or persona does not mean that they are unwilling or unable to learn.  In any classroom, urban or otherwise, it is important to be more than just a voice in the background like Charlie Brown’s teacher.  And finally, something as simple as noticing a student, or asking if they understand, or asking if they have anything to add can show them that you care about their ideas and opinions, and when they understand this, they will be engaged in your class.  I know everything will not be as easy as these students (yes, these problematic, troubled, urban students made it easy!) made it for me, but I have some knowledge and experience to work with now, and help me overcome obstacles in the future.

When I realized that I wanted to stay and finish my lesson today, that was when it clicked for me.  I really do want to teach.  I think I am going to love what I do, and I’m excited for my future as an educator.


8 Responses to Lessons… And Not Just For My Students

  1. jaimekatz says:

    First of all, to be honest the only reason i’m actually reading this article is because I was scrolling down for an interesting title when a terrifying picture LITERALLY JUMPED OFF the screen and I almost fell off my chair. I might have nightmares tonight.

    But anyway… i think it’s so great you have found that passion for teaching and had the chance to actually teach. Knowing how tough it is to teach lessons for an elementary audience, i can only imagine how hard it is to teach secondary. So hot dog, mad props to you. And the fact that your mentor teacher gave you instant feedback, that sounds like something that will really be useful in the long run. I completely agree, that this experience has only made me more excited to be a teacher in the future but I think a great deal of that is because of how amazing these few weeks have been, which sounds similar to your case. I’ve heard a lot of people being really intimated by this whole journey and who have decided then and there to only teach in suburban districts. Hearing how wonderful your experience was, do you think you’ll want to teach in an urban school? Just curious.

    • Sam B says:

      I’m glad to hear you are excited to teach as well. And as far as where I teach, to be honest I’ll go wherever I can find a job. However, I do feel that without this experience I might not have that outlook, and would not be as comfortable with the idea of teaching in an urban school.

  2. Emily C says:

    I also taught lessons as well and looked at my results the same way that you did. Learning from your mistakes is key. I think that you are never done learning and when you think you are you need to get yourself back in check. I think that with new materials, standards, and generations you must always be learning. If you are no longer learning than you are likely to be making the mistake of not adapting to your environment. Which I have learned is key when teaching. You can write lesson plans and have ideas of the way things should go all you want but as teachers we will be constantly be thrown curve balls. We will have to adjust to the student’s question that cought you off gaurd, the mental state of your students, suprise fire drills or assemblies.
    I am happy for you and your discovery about your future today. Many students think they want to do one thing with your life, but that changes when they are thrown into actually doing that job. Fortunatly because in order to learn to teach we can not just go to classes and learn theories and teaching styles, we must simply dive in and learn from our mistakes. Because we are exposed at an early age we quickly learn that we truly are ment to do this or that it may not be the correct path. This discovery also made me very excited and anxious to become an educator. I have even cought myself wishing away my college years just so I can do what I love every day.

    • Sam B says:

      I definitely agree with you about diving right in and adapting. It’s true that we can only get a certain level of preparation from courses, and we need to find out how WE teach, not how others would suggest we teach.

  3. Ashleigh M says:

    Sam, I am so happy that you had a positive experience teaching! The very first day I met you, I immediately thought that you have the potential to be a great educator. You have such a fun, joking, personality, which I think students definitely need, especially in a rigorous classroom setting. This was also evident when you performed your skit tonight. I wish you the best of luck in the future. One suggestion I have for you, is don’t wish your college years away 😉 College will be over in a blink of an eye!

    • Sam B says:

      Thanks Ashleigh, good luck to you too. And believe me, if it was an option, I would probably just stay in college forever.

  4. Hali C. says:

    hi sam! i’m so impressed by your story!! i’m so glad that you were able to overcome this brick wall! especially in an urban setting as you said, if you can do it here, u can do it anywhere! i also think it’s a good thing that you had 3 chances to present your lesson plan so that by the third time, u have it down and you definitely know what you are doing. also as you said in your entry, just because students are not listening at the said moment, it doesn’t mean that they are unwilling or unable to learn. i feel like this is a lesson that a lot of us have learned these two weeks and its definitely one that will stick with us forever. keep on smiling and good job on our skit today!

    • Sam B says:

      Yeah, I definitely had that “if I did it here I can do it anywhere” feeling. I know there will be different challenges in different schools and settings, but some will be more difficult than others.

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