The ONE Big Thing People Don’t Tell you about Teaching

I am in my fourth and final week of my middle school practicum. For those of you who are not familiar with teacher vernacular, let me explain what practicum is. Practicum is done before you student teach to give you some experience in a real classroom. You co-teach and assist and hopefully teach on your own as well for a set amount of time. I have spent every day of the past few weeks with two classes of 6th graders in their social studies.

I’ll tell you all about the experience as a whole and the fun stories I have next week. But this week, I want to talk about what none of my classes have prepared me for. Are you ready?

The one big thing people don’t tell you about teaching is that it is A LOT OF WORK!!!!

I know that’s an obvious statement, but I often think people in other careers forget how much work it actually is, or maybe they just don’t know.

One of the most common quotes I hear about teaching is the infamous, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” That quote makes me so angry and makes my blood boil. That is a way people excuse or dismiss teachers. Because the truth is the exact opposite, especially in my case. I have to know the ins and outs of every nuance of history. I have to be able to write a persuasive argument using primary and secondary source evidence. I have to be able to back up every single claim and assumption I make or else it’s not valid. In essence, I have to be able to “do” history A LOT better than my students so I can teach them history. That’s what I am in college for currently. I am working on my practice and preparation so that I can transfer that knowledge and those skills to my future students.

Speaking of preparation, I cannot tell you how long it takes to prepare for teaching. Lesson planning is a serious process. It’s not just “Oh, this is what my students need to learn, so we’re gonna go through the textbook word for word.” You have to incorporate standards and objectives. You have to make it interesting and engaging so that students will remember it. You also have to make it applicable and relevant to their lives. For example, I taught both classes this past Friday. One of the things I mentioned was globalization (you know, the process of trading goods worldwide and that kind of stuff). I was providing examples to my students and encouraging their participation. They were providing good examples too, but some of them were missing the point. So I got the class’s attention and said, “These are all good, but here’s another example. What about a little company called Nintendo?” I almost lost control of my class. But I had planned for it. With that example, all of a sudden they understood and were engaged. You could almost feel the collective realization. I got my students to think of something they knew in a different way, and all of a sudden it made sense.

I mentioned that it takes a lot to plan and prepare. I had pretty much planned for that kind of a reaction from my students. But in general, that lesson took almost three weeks to plan. There was a lot I had to do for the lesson and make it come together. Preparation is a lot of work. You have to meet the students at their levels and make sure they understand.

Teaching is also a lot of mental work. I have to be emotionally available for my students. It doesn’t matter what I have going on in my life or what other things I need to do once I leave. But from the time I step into the school to the time I leave, my emotions are held in check for my students. Yesterday, I had a student who got really frustrated with the work and didn’t want to do anything. Normally, I would have probably gotten frustrated and snapped back if it was one of my friends. But because she was my student, I was softly encouraging her to do her work. She didn’t get a lot done yesterday, but today she came in with a much better attitude and worked better. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better. That was good enough honestly.

I’ve had my students dump on me and tell me their problems. But then I have also had students tell me about what they are interested in. I’m emotionally available for them and what they have to tell me. I have to keep a lot of my emotions in check so that I can be there for my students.

So again, it may seem obvious, but teaching is a lot of work. I read somewhere that teachers make more decisions on a day-to-day basis than brain surgeons. I think that might be true. As a teacher, I have to constantly be adapting and making decisions about the classroom. Regulating behavior, addressing issues, adapting lessons, and other things all come with the territory of teaching. It’s not just plan a lesson and hope for the best. Sometimes it’s “Okay, that didn’t work. Let’s try this.”

I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that every day for about the past four weeks, I have been exhausted. I am spending all my mental and physical energy on these 6th graders. Don’t get me wrong, I love them and I love what I’m doing. But actually being in the classroom is a lot more work than just learning and preparing to be a teacher.

I’m so excited though for where I’m going and what I can do. I’m also really excited to tell you all the details of my middle school practicum and the adventures of my 6th graders, but I wanna wait until I’m done so you can get all the stories. But yeah. Teaching is a lot of work! So be nice to your teachers folks!

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