Life Lessons for Teachers
by Laurie Forsyth
I saw a shirt once that said, “I will not yell in class. I will not throw things in class. I will not have a temper tantrum. I will always be good…because I am the teacher.” My first year I screamed- a lot! It was the only way I knew how to get their attention. I turned red, and my blood pressure soared. I slammed my hand on my overhead so hard that I broke the bulb inside. The kids were greatly entertained, and I went home with a sore hand. The “screaming and turning red” philosophy didn’t work so well for me. Today I am the adult in my relationship with my students. No matter how they whine, argue, stamp their feet, or spill syrup on my pants during a science experiment about buoyancy, I keep my cool. I respond in the “adult” voice. “I understand that you are unhappy. I hope you will make a better choice next time.” “Please get me a wet paper towel before the ants come, and I’m stuck to the chair.” Today I give the students the power to practice self control by modeling the behavior myself. Rather than win arguments, I explain the purpose behind what we do. I treat them fairly. I laugh at my own mistakes, and I apologize when I revert back to being the child. I might go home a little sticky sometimes, but I haven’t replaced my overhead bulb in many years.
Another belief I hold is that children should learn to think for themselves. As a novice, I found myself thinking for my students and then praising them for getting the right answer. I wasn’t concerned about the process by which they got there. They could get a one hundred on the weekly spelling lists even though they couldn’t tell me what the words meant. If they memorized facts long enough to regurgitate them on a test, I’d give them a big smiley face. I rarely asked them to analyze or judge information because they would look at me with forlorn eyes. They always outlasted me at what I call “the waiting game.” I think kids learn the rules of the waiting game early in their school experience. If a student can’t come up with the answer the teacher wants quickly, we call on someone else. The awkward silence is too much. Students understand that if they don’t know the answer all they have to do is stare blankly at the teacher. If the teacher flinches, you win! I used to be terrible at the waiting game, but the sound of chirping crickets in the background doesn’t bother me so much anymore. Do you know why? Because as soon as my students understand my expectations, they start listening and thinking for themselves instead of letting me do it for them. And when students begin to think, I win. The last part of my philosophy is a choice we all must make- will I make the best of my life, or complain until I’m laid to rest. When I first graduated from college, I cried when I didn’t get hired right away. Then I cried because I had to grade papers, write report cards, meet with parents, attend meetings etc… My first year of teaching, I loved my job. I sat on the floor with my students and experienced their joys and defeats. I had passion for what I was doing. As the first year turned into the fifth year and then the tenth year, the kids seemed to get a little less wonderful and the job was just a means to an end. “A noun is a person, place or thing. Don’t you know this already? I’ve taught it for twelve years now.” (Insert your own droning voice here.) If I applied for a teacher discount card and the clerk asked for proof, I would quip, “Can’t you tell I’m a teacher by my haggard face?” I’d laugh, but inside a disdain for my profession was taking root. It was easy to blame the students- “If they would just behave, if their parents were just more supportive, if they didn’t watch so much television or play so many video games…” It was time to point the finger back at myself and ask what I was doing wrong. I knew I had become stagnate and must make a change. I decided to start at the root of the problem- my attitude. I hoped that maybe if I began to speak positively about my job I might actually start to enjoy it again. And if I started to enjoy my job again, maybe I would start to like the kids again. And if I started to like the kids again, well, the possibilities are endless. Today I enjoy what I do, and I love my students. I don’t even think about how long until teacher retiremen(okay, seventeen years, but I plan on enjoying every one of them!)