It has taken me a couple weeks to let my 7 week practicum in a Grade 5 class settle and sink in. That being said, this reflection (one of many) is focused on the profession of teaching and I will honestly admit: TEACHING IS HARD! It is emotionally, mentally and physically demanding in all the best ways. Teachers have to be passionate, dedicated, organized, hard-working, respectful, empathetic, professional, caring, connected, innovative and most importantly they have to embrace failure – just to name a few.
This blog post is my honest, real and raw realization and reflection about what teaching actually consists of… Not what a Faculty of Education may tell you on orientation day. (Disclaimer: nothing against the Faculty of Education, they have gotten me this far and provide us with amazing opportunities. However, what you learn in class and what you learn in the field is very different!)
In my mind and through my observations, these are the 10 most important qualities teacher should possess. Whether theses were learnt on my own, from my associate teacher, from my practicuum supervisor, from my students or even thanks to other members of the Faculté d’éducation I think they are essential to observe, realize and incorporate on set of my future career as a Teacher Candidate.
1. Teachers need to be passionate. Teachers are passionate people – hands down. They need not only to be passionate about the subject(s) they teach, but also about the success and well-being of their students. These men and women wake up every morning ignited. They come into school with that spark in their eye ready to face any obstacle with a smile - now that’s what I call passion. Having a passion for teaching is important, but it is also important to share your passions outside of education. Shauna Pollock (@misspollock), in her book, Creating Classroom Magic, writes:
“Your passion is when you follow your heartbreak. Finding your passion helps you identify your dreams and your mission […] It’s crucial that you take yourself on a journey to discover your passion (or passions) and model that for your students. When they see that you believe in yourself, are willing to dream and make the world a better place, they will feel empowered to do the same”.
2. Teachers need to be dedicated. Day in and day out teachers devote their lives to the classroom. There’s being dedicated to your students, your class, your school, your professional development, etc. which are all great things, don’t get me wrong; but the flip side of the coin is being too dedicated… I’ve realized that this profession can run you down if you let it. Teachers give it their all, all of the time. Devoting your time and energy into this profession is extremely rewarding. However, this quality of dedication and devoting goes hand in hand with finding balance. This can be a hard lesson to learn and as a teacher candidate, I hope to find a rhythm for myself in the future.
3. Teachers need to be organized. (Now isn’t that the truth?!) Whether a teacher is organized virtually or physically (or both), they have to file past lessons, student work, evaluations, etc. It is imperative to have some order in your classroom. From the stacks of photocopies paper clipped for the upcoming weeks to the lesson plans for when you’re absent, I’ve learnt that a teacher’s time use is more effective when things are well organized and prepared. Not to mention, colour coding subjects in notebooks, day timers, duotangs, binders, etc. (Unless I am the only on who does that because I may be a little too organized). The teachers I know have lists, grids and sticky notes galore – but please correct me if I am wrong. One way or another, it is important to find what works best for you.
4. Teachers need to have a good work ethic. Teachers wear many different hats in a day. Not only are they educators, but also mediators, motivational speakers, consolers, mentors, role-models, the list goes on and on… While they juggle all of those roles, they also must keep up with curriculum demands, attend lunch meetings, triangulate, prepare engaging lessons, coach a sport team, lead a book club, grade summative assessments, and stay on track with their yearly schedule. If you don’t think that teachers are hard working – think again.
5. Teachers need to be empathetic and respectful. These are two incredibly important qualities. An educator needs to put themselves in their student’s shoes, consider where their students are coming from and what they are going through at home each and every day. They can’t expect every student to be the same and fit in the same box. By respecting student’s needs, teachers can create confidence and success. Embodying these values as a teacher creates a safe and inclusive classroom allowing students to feel like they can grow and be important. It is about understanding them, pushing their limits but respecting their boundaries.
6. Teachers need to be professional. It is not always easy in this profession to keep a professional demeanour. Teachers are prone to criticism from parents, other teachers and people in the community and this is not always easy to deal with. They must abide to the standards and are sometimes limited by some "red tape". Every day educators dress respectfully, they are always on time and act in a professional matter. This professionalism also shines in their willingness to continue to better themselves in their field and pursue professional development.
7. Teachers need to be caring. There are times where one must set aside the curriculum and to deal with the human side of education. I've learnt that being caring and considerate towards a situation or a student in distress will not only you help move forward in your lessons but it also shows the students that you are there for them. Caring is also welcoming students in the morning, asking them about their day and genuinely interested about their passions and past times. A teacher can foster that feeling in a classroom by actively listening to students, getting their feedback and cultivating RELATIONSHIPS. A caring teacher is a key to student success.
8. Teachers need to be connected. High School Musical says it best: We’re all in this together! Through personal experience, I will be the first to day that creating a Personal Learning Network (PLN) allows educators to connect with other educators specialized in various domains. This expands knowledge and explores new ideas that you may not be familiar with. Networking with educators within your own school or on social media is the greatest form of professional development out there. Being connected also allows teachers to connect with the world around them. Never be scared to connect, only good can come from it.
9. Teachers need to be innovative. Innovation has become such a buzzword in Education and sometimes I wonder if teachers truly know what it means. To me, innovating is looking to better new ideas, it is doing things differently and not worrying about what people think. It's diving into curiosity and exploration. In the classroom, innovation can be very powerful. In @DerekRhodenizer's MAD PD presentation about Incubating Innovation, he describes it to be a process. Find a problem and create new solutions all while being purposeful. Most importantly, it is all about resolving that matter in a new, create and effective way that someone hasn't necessarily come up with yet.
"There really needs to be a challenge. We don't want to innovate for the sake of it, we want to innovate to solve the problem" - Derek Rhodenizer
10. Teachers need to embrace failure. This new mentality has been created where failure is used as a learning tool. Failure is totally acceptable and teachers need to start welcoming it into the classroom. Through failure, teachers prepare students for defeat and for success. In between defeat and success is the learning opportunity where students grow. As a teacher, it is important to model vulnerability and to try something different that may not necessarily work. Implementing risk increases the chances of a lesson being learnt - it's pretty incredible.
After reading this you may want to reflect on the qualities you portray as a teacher or as a futur teacher. I stated at the beginning of this blog that these were the 10 character traits a "qualified" teacher should possess. However, it is more geared towards being qualified as an individual being responsible of the growth, learning and happiness of +15 little humans day in and day out, year after year.
In my opinion, these traits and values cannot be taught in a classroom at the University of Ottawa, Laurentian, Guelph, Queens or any university. They are acquired through years of experience. You may never master all 10 of them (and there are many more not mentioned) but what is important is that they exist somewhere in your person. To be a teacher you must be caring and professional, hard working and so many more things... I've learnt that teaching may be HARD but also the most important and rewarding profession out there.