Although common phrases such as, “Those who can’t do teach” may suggest otherwise, teachers have a job of incredible importance. I wanted to give teachers a chance to share what education is like from their perspective. A conversation is going on today regarding how we can improve America’s academic standing internationally among schools. I was curious what would happen if teachers were given the microphone for a change, and the following paper is filled with the firsthand experiences of teachers regarding what teaching is like.
In addition to the interview questions of qualitative inquiry, I included an interesting piece of quantitative data as well. Teachers were given the chance to explain specific experiences that sum up their teaching experience, and then were given the opportunity to rate their job satisfaction on a scale of one to ten. The results are enlightening. I hope that you enjoy reading these stories, and can take away a small appreciation for all that teachers do for our children, siblings, and friends.
Although common phrases like, “those who can’t do teach” may suggest otherwise, teachers have a job of incredible importance. They are entrusted with educating our nation’s future. The following stories are true accounts of teachers who prove that education is not a field for the faint of heart. Through inspirational, and at times heartbreaking, tales about their experiences in education they demonstrate just how far reaching a teacher’s effect extends. A teacher truly can affect eternity.
Cast of Characters:
Miss Annabelle Montessori Teacher One-Room Schoolhouse Teacher Miss Jillian
Mr. Black Second Grade Teacher English Second Language Teacher Miss Katz
Miss Clementine Montessori Teacher Catholic School Teacher Mrs. Lauren
Miss Domino Montessori Teacher Fourth Grade Teacher Miss Mayflower
Miss Emerald Montessori Teacher Third Grade Teacher Miss Napoli
Miss Flower Special Education Teacher Fifth Grade Teacher Miss Olive
Miss Georgia Kindergarten Teacher Seventh Grade Teacher Miss Petals
Miss Honeydew Paired Educator Computer Teacher Miss Rose
Miss Indigo Fifth Grade Teacher Sixth Grade Teacher Dr. Sunshine
Miss Annabelle is a current Montessori School Teacher in Etna, New Hampshire. She is also the Head of School. She rates her overall teaching experience as a 10.
I have been teaching for twelve years at this school. Before that, I was obtaining my Master’s of Education in the Philippines. I taught there for a year, and then my family moved to Singapore. I also taught part-time while we lived there, and I would say that I spent three years doing that. I love the support of education here in the Upper Valley. Children are taught at a young age how valuable their education is, and so kids come to school motivated to learn.
I am hoping to teach here for one more year, and then just be able to run the school after this year. If I can’t do that, then I will teach part-time. My ideal situation would be that I would teach in the classroom for a couple of days, and then have somebody else teach the other days.
Since I am Head of School now, I wasn’t supposed to teach this year. I was in training to be the Head of School for two years. After two transitional years, the outgoing Head of School was going to leave, and then I was going to take over all of the school administration.
One of our Montessori teachers left in July, and it’s very difficult to find a Montessori teacher here in the Upper Valley. It is a three-year cycle for the children, so it also would’ve been very difficult for me to find somebody that the community would have accepted so readily. That is why I stepped back into the classroom.
My children went to Montessori schools in Singapore. It was also very popular in the Philippines where I grew up. I would say that, going into it, I was not as aware of what a Montessori education really is. I didn’t necessarily know about the philosophy before I started teaching at one. For my children, I had observed this Montessori school where I really liked what I saw, and so I put my children there.
As a teacher, I came upon this Montessori school, and saw that they were hiring. I applied for the job as an Assistant Teacher and then after that, I fell in love with the whole Montessori philosophy for education. In the beginning of my experience, you know, I was a little shocked. I thought it was a little too rigid at first, but now I feel like, “Oh, actually, I understand why it seemed more orderly than I initially thought.” I think the order is what attracted me to stay with the Montessori school system. It caters to the level of the kids where they are at, and it allows you to work with students one-on-one. The classroom is very orderly. It is not chaotic. There is not a high level of noise.
Everyday is really nice. At this level, I always think about the children being so innocent. I think that that actually give me a lot. You have longevity because of that as a teacher. They are so innocent at this age, three to six, and they are never malicious. If they are being, in quotes, naughty, it’s because they are trying it out. They just want to find out what that is. But it’s not because they are intentionally trying to hurt you or hurt anything around them. I think that is what makes every day kind of a privilege. It is an honor to be in this profession and get to be with the kids.
I think that a lot of the time when my students come out of here, parents are very satisfied. I am still very, very, very connected to a lot of the students that I have taught. Parents always come back and say that I made a difference. I don’t know if I have made a difference, but they say that I have. It could in part be because of where we live. I think that the students here are naturally smarter children. They are children whose families are very supportive of their education, so it’s not very difficult for me as a teacher to propel them.
That said, a lot of families do come back and say, “They are doing so well because of the discipline that you taught them.” When you teach them order and discipline from a young age, they carry that on throughout their educational and life experiences.
I really like teaching, but then it’s exhausting. It just physically sucks the life out of you. It doesn’t matter if you are just working a half-day, or a full day, it sucks the life right out of you. When you are at work, you don’t think about it because you are constantly doing things for the children, and you are being with them. You are so present, right? But then, when I get home, I am so exhausted. I feel like I can’t do anything too social because I am just so tired. I think that is the hardest part for me.
Children act out all of the time. The Montessori classroom is an individualized program. You get to know each child almost intimately because you are working with them on a one-to-one basis all of the time. I think it’s a big deal because, when they are losing it, you can refer back to the connection if you have established that relationship. You can always go back to that bond, and use it to talk to the child. Really, we explain and talk sense to them. I think they never take it in the wrong way from us because they trust us.
If we have a child who is kind of immature and is throwing a tantrum, I always say to the child, “But then I don’t understand what you are saying. I can’t help you because you are yelling. I can’t understand. So when you’re ready, tell me in your normal voice. Then I can help you.”
I think that is very effective. We just say, “Remember what we talked about. If you don’t whine, but you tell me what you want to do, then I can help you. If you whine, then I don’t understand what you’re saying so I can’t help you but I want to help you.” I think a lot of times that is a really good technique with the children. They are really very responsive, because they know you are coming from a place of caring, and then they very rarely continue the behavior.
Sometimes, if there is a child that is unreasonable, we will use distracting tactics like telling a joke or something like that. You know, we make it a little funny. But I think that you have to gage that based on the child and what the situation is. That also is why it’s so important to have one-on-one relationship with the child. You learn what works for them. Some children don’t like to be joked around with while they are having a tantrum. Then you pull back and say, “Yeah, okay. Let’s talk about this. How can I help you?” A lot of times we would say, “Well, right now you are not being helpful so you have to sit away from the class. When you are ready, you can come back.”
The discipline is always based on the child being ready. It is not when we think he is ready. When he is ready to be helpful then he can come back and join us again. I think that is how we deal with most of our tantrums. Of course, we also give them a hug if they need a hug. Or, we give them peaceful time. If they are really hungry then maybe we would deal with that first. We would ask, “Do you need a snack?” and then talk about it afterwards. It is usually something that physically has been bothering them that makes them have tantrums. That is the case a lot of the time. Very rarely do we have children that have tantrums for the sake of the tantrum.
In the Montessori school, the discipline is a little bit more enforced and from the start. There are ground rules that are already in place, and they are laid out before the children are able to break them. We talk about that in the beginning of the year. We have a curriculum in Montessori called “Grace and Courtesy.” Lessons in Grace and Courtesy include questions such as, “How do we treat our friends? How do we treat the materials?”
We demonstrate all of this to the children. We walk slowly around someone’s work, and prompt constructive thinking so that they will know what is acceptable. Examples include, “How do we disturb a teacher when we need her attention? How do we walk inside of a classroom?”
Those are all well established from the get go so that when you come across misbehavior, you can just bring it to their attention. You say, “Remember, slow feet. Slow feet.” I think that in other places, the contrast is probably that it is very play-based, so kids just go and play. They have more leeway for not following the rules, and that creates opportunities for the kids to be more disruptive. That is different than Montessori, where rules are given top priority, and also that you teach them to the children right away.
Future teachers have to know that teaching is all consuming. There are going to be days that are challenging. I think that the two battles we have are the exhaustion, and the fact that teachers aren’t paid a lot of money. So, going into the field, you have to know to expect that. But it is our privilege to teach the children. Some people think that it’s the other way around. It is not their privilege to be with us. We are the ones who are lucky to spend our days with the children.
Future teachers should also remember the reasons they went into teaching. We should be doing it for the children. We should strive to make their lives better. I think that in order to truly enrich their lives, we have to ourselves feel like we are devoting our lives to them, and then realize that it’s really a blessing.
Mr. Black is a second grade teacher located in Bow, New Hampshire in addition to coaching high school basketball. He rates his overall teaching experience as a 10.
In addition to being a second grade teacher here, I also coach high school basketball. It’s neat to see both the kids and their parents in different settings, and at very different points in their lives. The parents are very involved when the second graders come in. You can see that side of the parents when it is all starting out, and then you see the other side of the parents when it’s all wrapping up. When I am coaching high school basketball, the challenges are all separate. They are worried about where they will be going to college and if they are going to get a scholarship. It’s just fun to see the kids in different roles.
This year, I am actually coaching kids that I taught how many years ago. Some of them are actually playing in college. It has gone full circle to the point of, “Wow! I never really saw this side of you as a coach.” Or, “ I never saw this side of you as a teacher.” It is pretty cool to see and interact with them from a different role. It’s funny when you see the “highschoolers” that you had in class. Sometimes you get funny reactions. They will double take you and not say, “Hi,” and I am like, “What. You are not going to say Hi?”
I have ADHD, and I really struggled in school. Now, I have two Master’s degrees. If you would’ve told me that I’d have two masters degrees when I was in high school, I would have said you were crazy because I hated school. I still hate it. I went back for my Administration degree—I am two classes away from finishing that—and I hate it. I hate the idea of papers weighing over your head. It kind of weighs on you and weighs on you.
My father taught at a college for forty-five years. He is my role model with everything I do. I would never have said that up until I started teaching. You don’t appreciate what you have when you have it, and my Dad is still here don’t get me wrong, but we would battle all of the time. My brother wound up going to MIT. He was naturally bright, and my father was naturally bright. My sister was naturally bright too, but she was adopted. Everyone doesn’t understand why that was so hard. I was more of the street kid. I went to Plymouth State, but then wound up getting my Master’s and then another at UNH.
You can learn from everybody what to do and what not to do. In the beginning, I would learn the things that would irritate me, but now that he has taught for forty-five years and is still passionate about it, that’s an inspiration. The way that he treats my family and my kids is the way that I want to go through my life. He is much better at finances than me [laughing]. I don’t want to live in a shack when I’m seventy-three, but that’s an area I don’t think I will ever catch up.
When I first started teaching, I was a tough love type person. I was challenging. The kids knew I loved and cared about them, but I probably also got them on edge and made them respond back to me in not so great a way. Now I just try to breathe. Everything we do is all about breathing. Whether it’s my yoga training now… whatever it is, it’s all about being proactive. What can I do to make sure this person doesn’t get set off? Kids will come in here, and they will have behavior plans and have been with the behavior specialist from kindergarten and first grade.
I think the track record with me is that I minimize that as much as possible. I see it as a sign of weakness when I send someone outside of my room, because it’s saying that I waved the flag. Everybody needs help from time to time though. I am not saying that I don’t send a kid in there when he is spacing out, not in regards to screaming or yelling, but in regards to he can’t settle his body. I am like, “Why don’t you go to Miss Manor’s room, take some breaths, and then come back in.” Miss Manor and I do the same thing for each other.
This year, I have this boy who, whenever I mark something wrong, he cries. Whenever I tell him that he is wrong, he cries. Whenever I don’t let him finish his thought because we have to move on, he cries. We have gotten to the point where he will close his eyes and start taking breaths on his own. I am like, “What are you doing?!” He is like, “I am getting upset and so I’m going to breathe.” Sometimes he still gets overwhelmed. Nobody is perfect. I asked him out of the room yesterday because he was crying over something that four people had gotten wrong in a row and I went to him.
It was a real teaching moment, because I could show him that four other people got it wrong before he did, so he is putting to much pressure on himself. His parents are pretty intense. They are both professors, and he has high expectations for himself. Overall, he seems to enjoy it in here. He came back in when he was ready. When I send someone out, I never say, “Stay out there and I will be out to talk to you.” I say, “Come back when you’re ready.” I do that because that is the way life’s going to be. I wrote his conferences notes today. I was dealing with how do I say this on paper? I literally wrote, “Frustration gets to the point of crying, and we need to keep breathing through the moment.”
Having a tough conversation is not an easy thing for a lot of people. I just wrote all of my conference notes because we have parent-teacher conferences in two weeks. Teachers will try and avoid saying negative things even when they are true and need to be said. For example, they will say, “Okay. Your kid is very energetic” [laughing] which can also mean not focused. The problem is that the point doesn’t get across when you mince your words. There are actually books written about this. One of them is called “How To Say It Without Saying It.”
When I’ve tried to say things without being completely rude or black and white, what I have found is that it doesn’t necessarily get through to the parents. Maybe the kindergarten teacher said something nicer to the parents and they walk away thinking, “Oh, I have an energetic boy!” But when I have said, “Look. They are being very rude and disrespectful in the classroom,” that seems to open their eyes. If that is the first time that they are hearing that, then you have to deal with the repercussions of that. You have to accept it.
I am going to have to try and not just appease parents with my notes. Having a tough conversation is very hard. This is my fifteenth year doing it, and it’s still not easy. I coached college basketball for ten years before that, and I think that as you do anything you become more comfortable with it. You also become more confident to let parents know that there are certain things that just shouldn’t be. A lot of the time teachers will get upset when they look at someone’s report card and read what their notes are coming into and then leaving second grade because what the report card says are two different things. We the teachers all know what is going on, but the parents aren’t truly aware of it.
Having the tough conversation would be letting the parents know what I see from an honest perspective. I know that in the long run everyone really appreciates it, but it doesn’t matter if you are 7 or 70, having a person criticize you or you child—especially your child—is not an easy thing to handle. I make sure that the kids know exactly what I expect of them and then, as we go along, I will make sure that I send parents texts all of the time. Sometimes I will have the kids call home. I will say, “You forgot your homework three days in a row. I am texting your parents.” I have had two kids that moved in out of district this year, and I don’t think that they are used to that.
The interesting piece, and I feel bad about this, is when the parents are divorced. One week they live with one parent, and the other week they live with the other parent, and during different weeks it will be on different days. So, whenever I communicate, I always communicate with both parents. But it can look like I am trying to play favorites, like I take a side, or they get mad at each other. I’m like, “So and so hasn’t done their homework in three days” and I don’t know the situation.
The situation was that he was at Mom’s or Dad’s house for three days, so now they are chirping away and I’m like, “Hey, I just want them to get caught up.” I will say to them, “I don’t care what your problems are. They are not my problem. My problem is… my situation is that I am supposed to take care of your son or your daughter, so you two figure out a way to get along because this is not healthy.”
There are times when, if I feel comfortable saying it, then I will say it. There are also lots of times when I am not sure. This person could run to the superintendent the next day and say, “This person just told me to get ahold of myself and not yell at my wife, and he can’t tell me what to do.” I have gotten myself into trouble at times, but I truly believe that that is why I am here… to step up and make a difference. You can always just mail it in.
Like, I could come in here every day and do the lessons that they give me, not put any feeling or inspiration into it, and the principal would come in and observe and say, “Yep! Boom. Boom. Boom. He has this on the wall, and he does this, this, this, and this.” But the more I do it, the more I realize that I am not here for that. I am here to make a change for all of my kids regardless of where they are academically. I am here to enrich those that are farther along academically. I am here to help those that struggle like I did in school.
I always say, try to find at least one thing in each kid that you truly inspires them. [Pointing to a wall of art] I have my kids write a lot of these different messages up here, like what they do when they get frustrated, so that is a constant reminder to them. I have really had to come out of my comfort zone. I used to be like, you know, Johnny Jock. I played football with the kids and that stuff, but then I had two daughters. After I had daughters, I started going to more dance recitals, piano things, and cheerleading competitions. It changed me. I let the kids [in my class] know that if it’s important to them, then it’s important to me.
I have done a lot of crazy things. The most memorable thing I do every year is dress up as the Cat in the Hat. We turn it into a Broadway production. It used to be me reading a book dressed as the Cat in the Hat, and then I brought the teachers into it. And then, when you start getting over yourself in your twenties and thirties, you realize that it is not just about you. It’s about others. I started incorporating my class into it, so they all have a role. We do dances. We do songs. We wear outfits. We take a Dr. Seuss book every year and reenact it, and hopefully it has a message.
We have done that for eight years, and now the kids that come into my class every year are nervous about it. They come to second grade and say, “I don’t want to do the play,” because it becomes an expectation. We do it for Read across America. It’s intense, but it’s very enriching. It’s especially enriching to see the kids that were the most nervous finish the play and they are like, “I can’t believe that I did that. I just sung in front of everybody!” That is very, very meaningful to me.
I did another big project that involved the whole school. I used to run a thing called Boot Camp for Children. We had a hundred to a hundred and fifty kids. I did that for the first eight years that I was teaching. I think that like anything else you do, you have to be careful not to burn yourself out—especially when I am coaching too. We would have two days a week where the kids would run hills. We did weights. We got guess speakers, yoga instructors, basketball teams, and karate instructors to come in. At the end of the year, we would offer a free 5K for all of the people in the Garrison community.
We would fundraise for it. It really empowered the community as well as the kids, and I felt very proud of that. As you can see, some of these things extend outside of the classroom walls; but inside of the classroom walls, I just like the fact that I am better today than I was last year or the year before. I used to be pretty intense. I wanted the kids to get the curriculum. I wanted this and that to happen. But now, with everything in my life, I am more at peace with the way things are.
When I did the Boot Camp, every now and again I would get a letter from a sixth grader saying, “I am now part of the track team and I never would have done that if it hadn’t been for you.” I have a lot of letters from parents. I got a letter from an eighth grader last year that made me feel good because they said I was still their favorite teacher. Six years had gone by and I was still their favorite teacher, and in second grade… like I don’t even remember my second grade teacher’s name. Honestly. So I feel like I have made an impact in a lot of different ways.
I enjoy the kids the most. Everyone always says that, but I truly feel like I show it with my class. What I don’t like is all of the red tape. I don’t like following curriculum rules. I don’t like filling out professional development papers or writing report cards. I would much rather have three conversations a year with a parent than write three sets of report cards that take an hour each to complete. I would rather have a twenty minute conversation where we just could talk, but that’s not the way that the world works. You need documentation to travel through with these kids.
The hard part about teaching, especially at this level, is that you don’t truly know if you’ve made a difference. You can see someone excel in reading where they just take off; but also, it could just be that it was time for them to take off. So I really try to enrich the soul, and hopefully it works.
There is always room to grow. Now what I am trying to do is make an impact with the kids that maybe I never would have gotten to know before. Some of the girls, for example, have anxiety. In the past, they might put them in another room. Most people would just let that go, but if there is something I’m not doing right, I really want to know so that I can fix it.
I’ll ask the principal, “Why didn’t you put that kid in my class?” People are apologetic and want to say, “It wasn’t like that at all,” and I am like, “No! I am not offended. I want to know why.” I got this answer, “You are kind of intense when it comes to curriculum, and I think she would have been a little nervous.” So I think about what I can do for that, and how to improve for the future.
I tell everyone that I have never had a bad day. I have never had a long day, let’s put it that way. When I look at the clock and it says eleven o’clock and I’m like, “Oh, how am I going to do this?” Then all of the sudden it’s the end of the day, and I’m like, “It’s time to get out?” So to this day, with coaching and teaching, I can’t complain of a bad day. I would like more money, but I accept the fact that money isn’t why I’m here. In another twenty-five years, I will still be teaching. It’s funny because five years ago, I was on track to become a principal. The more that I taught, the more I discovered that I am not that person. I am not a budgetary person, or a make-a-schedule person, so I am probably going to teach until I am seventy.
The best advice I can give to anyone with any situation is to be proactive. When you go in for an interview, say the word proactive. The question might be, “How are you going to manage this?” You just say, “By being proactive so that everything is planned out ahead of time.” You are kind of like a fortune-teller. You are already seeing problems before they happen, and it gets easier the more that you teach. After you’ve taught for a while, you get a better sense of how to set things up. You realize, “Okay, if I say go get a calculator” and they haven’t seen calculators before, you need to let them have time to explore and all of those different things.
I don’t think that I would have been ready to do this job when I was twenty-two and right out of college. I went to coach college basketball. Then I switched to clinics and camps. I started to find my niche, and I knew that I didn’t want to be in a certain subject. I would say that if you are going to be a higher-grade teacher, it’s important to know your crap. Be able to speak on all different things within that subject. Not only so that you can be right with the children, but so that you can open their minds to new things. That is what I try to do here. There are projects that third and fourth grade does that I can get them ready for. I say, “Look guys, this is where we are going towards.”
I think to be excited about what you are teaching and to be knowledgeable about what you are teaching is important. If you are not in it for the children then you won’t be happy. You have to want to help… like when my four students come in here every morning to eat breakfast because they can’t eat at home. When they are finished, then they go to special and I am here cleaning up spilled milk, which I just cleaned up an hour ago at my own house.
Those types of things come with the job, so you have to be ready for that. I always say to the parents, “This is your most prized possession, and my job is to treat him or her like my own for the seven hours that they are here. I will not speak to your kid any way that I wouldn’t speak to mine.” I am probably harder on my kids than many parents no doubt. I think that they see that I care about them and that’s what matters.
Miss Clementine is a preschool teacher in a Montessori School. She rates her overall teaching experience as an 8.
I have been a teacher for a total of ten years, and I’ve been teaching at a Montessori school for four of them. Before that, I taught high school for three years. Before that, I taught middle school. I have enjoyed teaching in the Montessori setting the most.
My most memorable teaching experience happened when I was teaching at a Residential Teaching facility in Wyoming. I had a 16-year old girl who was there because she was involved with drugs and prostitution. She was actually doing really well in school, but we were trying to teach her daily self-care. She wasn’t good at that because she’d had years of abuse.
At one point, I was telling her to do something over and over again because she wouldn’t do it. Finally, she had accomplished this thing, and she said to me, “I wish you had been my teacher a long time ago.” It was very rewarding. I think the reason that I like teaching preschool aged children is because I can help them before any of that stuff happens. Although I’m happy with the younger kids, I have really loved every age that I’ve taught. They have all been great.
Montessori method is the most effective teaching style. It is the most respectful of the individual. The philosophy is basically that people are created to love order and to want to achieve it. In addition to this desire for order, we also have this natural desire to learn. We have a desire to try new things and to encounter experiences we’ve never had before. We have a desire to attempt things, whether we fail or not, because whether we succeed is not as important as the growing experience.
Montessori tries to work with the child with their stage of development at a sensitive stage while their brain is forming. We capitalize on each of those stages for each individual, rather than coercing them into what a group is learning, or what is mandated by the state, or the Department of Education.
The thing I enjoy most about teaching is the children. I think that every time a student tries something and succeeds, or tries something and fails, it makes a difference in their lives. I see myself as a guide for the student. I don’t think I am effecting these changes. I think that the student, with what they are going through, given the right environment and encouragement, affect their own changes.
Teaching definitely comes with its surprises. When you teach them when they are young, you can get a little bit discouraged when you see a student getting stuck somewhere, or struggling with a problem. The surprise comes when you see them years later, and they’ve outgrown it or corrected it. It’s a great feeling when you see they’ve taken tools you know they have acquired from your classroom, and they have really grown. There have been so many times that I have seen students really struggle so much, and years later they’ve overcome it.
One student sticks out in my mind. I myself was discouraged regarding where this child would end up, but I saw him a couple of years ago and he had joined the army and really gotten his life together. It’s so great to see that. I admit that it surprises me when they really succeed and overcome whatever difficulties and personal challenges they were grappling with at the time that you taught them.
You hope for the best, and you do everything that you can for them, but you can’t know for sure how their life will turn out after they leave your classroom. Some students still struggle, or never overcome some of their struggles, but they still will often write to me. They will write letters, email me, or contact me on Facebook, and just want to talk about things that we went through together, or how they use a skill that I taught them. It’s really rewarding.
There is never enough time to do everything that you want to do for your classroom and for your students. That would be my only complaint. There could be forty-eight hours in a day! Every single year, there is at least one student who will act out. I think that the key is to remain respectful and give them back the behavior that they are giving you. It’s important to try to understand why they are acting that way and then correct it, but also make really strict boundaries. I will literally say to them, “This can’t happen. You really hurt somebody. You can’t be walking around the classroom if this is how you are going to behave.”
To future teachers, I would say be patient. If you master patience then you will be fine.
Miss Domino is a kindergarten teacher at the same school as Miss Clementine. She also rates her overall teaching experience as an 8.
I have been a teacher since 2010. I have been teaching for about five, or five and a half, years, and I have no plans to stop teaching. I never really considered doing anything else. I always liked working with kids, and it seemed more a question of when instead of what for me. I am married right now, and my husband and I don’t have any kids, so this works really well for us.
My favorite part of teaching occurs when you are with the students from an early age. Especially when you get to see a kid come in who is new to Montessori, and is not used to this type of environment. I love to see them progress over the course of the year. Their gradual evolution into a work cycle, and then over the years to see them become this entirely different person, is just such a beautiful thing. They start out coming into the classroom and just learning basics, like how to do work independently, and then as they grow you can watch them helping the younger kids. To watch that progress unfold is really just an amazing experience.
I also enjoy the rewards of seeing these kids gain knowledge from experience, grow friendships, and just grow as little individual people. It’s really fun being around them. I like working with the kindergarteners because they have this view of the world that you don’t see anywhere else. It’s refreshing.
I have kids act out every day. I had a kid this morning actually who disrupted the class. He didn’t want to share blocks with another child. My strategy was to separate them until they both had a chance to calm down. The funny thing is that with kids, it doesn’t take that long. I think it was twenty minutes later we had moved on to outside recess and I saw the two of them together laughing.
I just react with patience and respect and try to understand where they are coming from. I ask myself, “What kind of prompted that behavior?” and try to go from there. I also do my best to explain to them in a respectful manner that this is not how we behave. Then I show them, “This is how we can work it out,” or “This is how we interact with our friends.” What happened earlier this morning, though, really shows the flexibility of their friendships. They bounce back really fast.
My least favorite part of teaching is just feeling like there is just so much to do, and I can never do it. There is always a never-ending list of things that I want to get done. It’s just something that is really difficult. For example, I would love to start a project this week, but we are still wrapping up with last week’s lesson. The downside to teaching little kids is that everything takes so much longer. I have to help out a lot, and even with an aid in the room, there are a lot of kids to get to. I’ve learned not to have them do anything with glue sticks. It’s amazing the things that kids will put in their mouths. In the past, when I turn my back for just a second, I have had at least one kid try and eat the glue stick every time I’ve worked with them. Now, I pretty much stick to coloring.
I think that a big part of teaching is understanding where the child is developmentally. I think that a lot of teachers don’t understand that. For these young kids, their lives are so overwhelming. Everything in their world is adults. When they act out, or when events prompt them to act out, it is very frustrating for them. So as a teacher learn about the children that you are teaching. Where they are coming from is crucial. It will help you to relate to them and to have patience and kindness toward them instead of getting frustrated or annoyed because they are trying to just insert their independence and their voice in their very just overwhelming world.
Miss Emerald is a Montessori School teacher that teachers multiple aged children out of her home. She rates her teaching experience as a 9.
I have been a teacher for twelve years. I really always knew that I wanted to teach. I grew up in a house with younger siblings. I work well with children. They respond to me. I never seriously considered doing anything else.
I don’t have any idea how much longer I plan to teach. Most likely, it will be for at least ten more years or so. I am fortunate enough to teach in my house, which allows me to watch after my daughter as well. She is four years old.
My most memorable teaching experiences have been when I just connect with the children. We are totally present with one another. It is just every peaceful. I can’t even describe the feeling. I love being with the kids and connecting with them. I inspire children regularly. This school is a very peaceful environment, and it just has a calm that really supports children’s learning. Kids are really eager to learn. They are enthusiastic about it.
One surprising thing happened just today. We have naptime here, and one of the kids… well two of the kids… have a really hard time falling asleep. They don’t have to sleep, but they have to lie down for a half hour because it’s state law. It has just been this battle of trying to get him to lie down, not talk, and not make any noise. I don’t know why it took so long to figure this out, but today I used mindfulness with him. The battle just went away, and he eventually fell asleep for the first time ever.
Mindfulness is a great tool when kids get off topic. In this case, I was using something called “Bubble Breaths.” We start out in the beginning of the year with little jars of bubbles, and we blow real bubbles outside. That gentle breath that it takes to blow a bubble out is what we call bubble breaths. Then I refer to that memory throughout the year. We use a pretend wand and we blow.
It’s especially useful when I need a student to become calm. It’s a way of paying attention to your breath. For kids, it’s playful and great. We start every day doing Bubble Breaths, and I use it throughout the day to help the children settle down, or when they are having difficulty with fidgeting. It’s a way of coming to the present, and using your breath to relax you a little bit.
Children act out. I have been all over the spectrum for dealing with it. I shift from reacting myself in not really a good way, to effectively handling it. I think the Bubble Breaths I just mentioned are a really good example of when I get it right. If children are spinning out of control, I get their attention and will say, “Let’s blow some Bubble Breaths.” That will often diffuse things.
My least favorite part of teaching is the mess [laughing]. It’s definitely the mess. That is the downside of teaching in my own home. Yes it’s great to be able to be here when the phone rings, but I can’t go home after work to a clean house unless I am picking up as we go along. The kids help somewhat, but if the mess is from spilled milk, and things like that, then I take care of it.
I believe very firmly in Montessori education. Montessori, while the word mindfulness isn’t used in it, is a curriculum of mindfulness. It allows differentiation in education. Each child learns at his or her own rate. That can be pretty challenging in a typical classroom. When you’ve got kids three grade levels ahead, how do you meet all of those needs with special education kids? Everyone is working at their own pace here, and they really thrive. They are also inspired by what the other ones are doing. It makes it exciting for them to try new things. It fosters a wonderful environment.
I would advise future teachers to gain exposure about the Montessori environment. It is not as well advertised as traditional public and private schools, and we need more teachers who incorporate mindfulness into their classroom. It’s really the best philosophy for the kids, and that is why we do after all. You want to let each child grow at his or her own rate, and Montessori really fosters that.
Miss Flower is a special education teacher in Dover, Mew Hampshire. She rates her teaching experience as an 8.
I have been a teacher for about seventeen years, and I plan to teach for at least ten more years. I love lots of what I do. I am a special education teacher, so I only work with special needs children. I am responsible for teaching all of the kids with IUPs in third and fourth grade. I also do case management, and it is hard to manage the paperwork testing and case management stuff with teaching, so that’s really the challenge.
Because I work with kids that have disabilities, a lot of the progress that’s made is really slow. There have been a couple of cases with kids who have just exceeded all of my expectations and just taken off. It happens a lot with reading. You can see the connection when they realize that they can actually read something other than “the cat ran.” It is great to expand what they can do, and seeing that self-confidence grow is probably the best part about my job.
One of the things that I love most about my job is making connections with kids who have struggles outside of school. I love being able to give kids a safe place where they can have consistency and know that someone is fond of them. I have had a number of kids with really challenging home lives, and I know that the relationships that I have built with them have helped them. I made them feel more secure, and they came to look at school as their safe place. That is really rewarding for me. Those are my favorite kinds of kids. I just love the behavior kids. I love the kids with emotional challenges, and I guess my philosophy is just to give them a good day. That if the rest of their day isn’t so great, that they can just have part of it where they feel good about themselves.
In these types of situations, the Department of Children and Youth and Families (DCYF) gets involved. DCYF is a social service agency that intercedes because of abuse and neglect. It is for kids that have a lot of baggage and stuff. DCYF will, to a certain point, have the kids stay in the same home environment. I have had a couple of kids that were removed from the home and placed elsewhere, but typically they try to keep the families together by providing supports for the families. A lot of the times when they first go in there is just chaos.
Poverty plays a role. Substance abuse plays a role. Family dynamics impact it as well. Not every kid has the perfect home, and consequences fall on the children. The chaos they experience at home affects the way that they see the world around them. These kids just feel so much of a lack of stability at home. For me to be able to give them a place where they have stability and they can know what to expect—to know that they are cared for and appreciated—is huge to me. I think to the kids it is too.
I have a student going through this right now. There is a girl here who is in a really challenging home environment. I know that DCYF has a lot of involvement with his family. I can tell that she is sad a lot of the time. She isn’t a happy kid, and often times she has behavioral issues. When I have her during the day, I make sure that she feels like I can relate to her as a person. I want her to understand that I care for her.
I can see her kind of decompress and calm down. Her whole body just settles, and she is able to sit and get some stuff done. During the rest of her day, a lot of the time, she has so much on her mind that it interferes with what she can do in the classroom. I just love seeing that she can feel better, even if it is only for a small part of her day.
I do witness learning disabilities and difficult home lives together, but I don’t know that there is any connection between the amount of bad home environments I see and the kids needing special education. I am not sure if there is any difference percentage-wise when compared with the typical population. If I have got twenty-five kids each year, I probably have three to five of them that have some tough situations at home.
Every day is a surprise with a lot of the kids that I work with. I learned very early on that I can use humor, like I can be really goofy, to lighten up an otherwise tense situation. For example, I had a boy a bunch of years ago with a home life that was really hard. He had a lot of aggressive behavior at school, and he was in a rage at one point when I was in a room with him. He picked his desk up over his head and was going to throw it. I just very calmly looked at him and said, “Holy crap,” and that was enough. Like, it was very inappropriate for a teacher to say that to a kid, but that was enough.
He just stopped for a minute and was just like, “What’s that?” and I said, “How did you fit all of that stuff in your desk?” He just started laughing. It throws kids off guard because it surprises them. They don’t expect a teacher, an adult, to say that to them. It showed me that I can use humor to just kind of bring them out of where they are at in their head. I have called on that strategy a number of times.
If they want to move around, stand at their desk, or sit on their knees in here, it doesn’t bother me. As long as they are still doing what I want them to do then I am happy. I had one kid last year who really took me up on this rule. I had a giant box in here because a friend of mine was moving, and I was collecting boxes from the custodian. The boy would come for a bunch of days and sit in the box while he did his work. I let him put his name on it because he sat there so calmly with his work and paid attention the whole time.
I don’t care what they do to get in that state of mind where they feel safe and can focus on what we are learning. This particular boy had ADHD. I think it was the sensory experience of being closed in, like being in a little nest, that helped him stay calm. I think it was also the novelty of being able to do something new during class time. I think the kids have so much energy sometimes that if they can just do something in a different way, then that is enough to ground them and help them focus.
Things that work well for kids with Down Syndrome and kids on the Autism Spectrum are a lot of just simple tweaks. Both populations have language disabilities, so using limited language, and giving them time to process before monitoring a response helps a lot. It’s important to break everything down into small pieces, and just checking in along the way. If kids have behavior issues on top of it, then it’s essential to remember that not only is their language processing limited, when they are escalated it is even more limited.
You have to scale back even more in a behavioral situation. Just always remain calm and constant. A big thing that has helped with kids that have Autism or Down Syndrome is giving very specific instructions. Keep it very basic. Strategies that work well for ADHD kids is different. We do a lot of sensory bands and chairs in the classroom that they have fidget items. We have kids who can chew gum during class. Some of them take motor breaks. Every day, for a couple of my kids, we build into their schedule times where they can go down to the gym and just run or bounce a basketball. It helps them focus after they do that.
I don’t have any hearing loss children right now, but I have had some in the past. I’ve had a couple of pretty significant cases. One of them had a cochlear implant. A couple of them had hearing aids. One student in particular had a progressive hearing loss, and it was tricky because so much of what he did relied on reading lips. He tried to read my lips while I talked, so I had to really think about where I was in relation to how he could see me when I was speaking. Some of the feedback you give is a little bit different for kids with hearing loss.
One boy in particular I am thinking of had progressive hearing loss combined with attachment issues, and all kind of emotional issues. I know that he was adopted. He just needed very concrete instructions. He was very literal, very black and white, and he didn’t do well with anything that was abstract or multistep. So, in explaining things to him, I really had to be very clear and specific. A lot of times I had to give visual examples. I would model for him what I wanted him to do.
I have to remember that not being able to hear affects their writing capabilities, especially for a lot of the kids who are younger when it happens. If they have a lot of ear infections when they are little, they don’t catch that there is hearing loss right then. If they are not hearing all of the sounds correctly, then by the time they are ready to spell them, they are not able to make the correct connection between the sounds and the corresponding symbols. I really have to go back to the basics with them, and talk about how their mouth moves when they make sounds.
I am sure you have noticed this with kids that have hearing impairments. A lot of times their speech sounds different, and you can tell that they have a hearing impairment. That happens because they never learned the proper voice intonation that comes from hearing how others speak, like we did, growing up. A lot of what I do with them is just go back to try and teach some of the things that they missed.
I have found that the written piece is always the most challenging to bring up to speed for kids with hearing loss. It surprises some people. With literacy, I find that kids require the ability to decode before they can get the encoding. If you have had hearing loss, it does impact the decoding for sure, but I feel like it also impacts the encoding even more so because they can’t hear those sounds.
The way that you and I say “ch,” we know that it is the “ch” sound. If kids can’t hear what that sounds like, how are they going to know how to spell it? So it is a lot of word study, and just breaking things down by sound patterns. We go over the way that your mouth moves when you make specific sounds. It is a different type of teaching. A lot of the time I will use a mirror with them so that they can see what their mouth does while they are making sounds. It certainly helps, but the writing and spelling piece almost always lags behind the reading.
The hardest part about my job is feeling like I do not have enough resources staff-wise. I have five really involved kids right now who need a significant amount of support in the classroom planning that I help the classroom teachers do. I just always feel like there is not enough time and resources to really do all of the things that I would like to do with some of the kids that have greater needs. That is really the most frustrating part of my job. What is hard, but important, is really trying to tease out who it is that you really need to spend the most time with.
I have kids act out every day [laughing]. I am very calm when it happens. I do a lot of selective ignoring. I can tolerate more of the disruptions because I am not in a class of thirty kids. I have a small group, so I can tolerate more movement, and a little more verbal distractions, than most teachers can in the classroom. There are only three rules in my classroom. The first rule is to use a respectful voice. The second rule is to do your best. The third rule is to get done what you are expected to do. Although I don’t have a lot of rules when the kids are here, I have the expectation that the ones I do have are really important. For the most part, they follow through.
If they bring in a snack, then they bring in a snack. If they need to get up and go get a drink, then they get a drink. I just have expectations for their behavior overall. I had one group in particular that was tough several years ago. There were six kids, which is kind of a big group for what I was doing. One of them had Autism. One had a severe behavioral disorder, and a couple of them are just really language LD kids.
It was just a really tough group. Making things work in a group like that relies a lot on trying to manage the behavior. Individualizing what each kid is working on can get tricky when you have a large group that have behavior problems tacked on, but I just do the best I can. A lot of the younger teachers I’ve seen haven’t really known what disabilities are all about. They took their introduction to exceptional children class, but that is pretty much it.
It’s important for future teachers to be aware that if a student isn’t doing exactly what everyone else is doing, that doesn’t automatically mean that they have a disability. There is a bell curve, and kids are at all difference places along that, so don’t needlessly jump to conclusions. Teachers are not trained to diagnose students, and you could really offend a child’s parents when you might not even be right about it.
I would strongly advise doing observations in a special education setting, even if people want to become regular ed teachers. Exposure to special education is great for regular and special ed. teachers. Follow your passion, but know that if you are in a District that wants you to teach and case manage at the same time, it can be tricky to find the balance between those two things. We really work to include kids in the classroom rather than taking them out of class all of the time. We always provide supports and services in the classroom when we can, but scheduling doesn’t always allow that.
It’s also important to be understanding of the kids and try to see things from their point of view. The impact that you have on them as a teacher will last for eternity. It extends beyond their lives into the lives of their children. We are with them for a large part of their day five times a week, so the effect that we have is really big. The art of this job is to take the impact you have on them seriously but also to have fun with them too.
Miss Georgia is a Kindergarten teacher from Gorham, New Hampshire. She would rate her overall teaching experience as an 8.
I have only been a teacher for two years. I don’t really have a set time to retire. I enjoy working with the little ones. There are times when I feel like I might want something more, but I can never bring myself to leave. It’s not a matter of a lack of courage. I think deep down I know that every job you are in will have days like that. If I’m really honest with myself, I don’t think I would enjoy another job more. The kids are so cute when they are young. So, yes, I plan to stay at this school for a while.
I think the kids are what I enjoy most about teaching. I had such a fun group this past year. I could see the improvements in what they were learning. It’s fun when they get excited to see you in the morning. That doesn’t always happen, but when it does it makes the whole day go by quickly. A lot of times in the beginning of the school year, they are nervous, and don’t want to come in at first.
You know that it’s going well when they want to come in in the morning. It’s not just that it feels good for a teacher to see that. It’s really a sign that the child is adjusting. I think that’s why I enjoy it so much. I had a girl that just started a few weeks ago in September. She started the year very shy, and had a hard time saying bye to Mom, but now she has no problem at all. She doesn’t even stop at her cubby. It’s rewarding to see that progression.
I have a handful of new kids that started in the beginning of September, and they kind of go through the whole transition thing. They don’t want to leave their parents, so they refuse to stay, or they get upset by it. There is one boy this year who is just the complete opposite. I can’t even leave the room or else he freaks out. I think that the relationships that I have formed with some of the kids and their families is really special. I am grateful for that.
I have only been teaching for two years, but I have already had kids come back and talk to me after they leave. Their parents will even stop by my room and say, “Hi.” We still have a good bond. This one boy comes in here almost every day to come find me and say hi to me before going to his classroom.
Kids act out pretty frequently. They are still learning how to behave. Just this morning, someone didn’t like that they weren’t getting their way, so they kicked the other kid. They were fighting and so we separated them. We sat them down and talked. In these situations we will say, “We don’t hit our friends.” Sometimes they understand, but they are still learning too. I am patient with them, but I always make sure to address it. You don’t want them to learn that it’s okay to misbehave. It forms a bad habit.
They are still learning how to interact appropriately. I try not to make too big a deal out of it because I know that at this age they don’t really mean it in a bad way. We also have to address it though, because otherwise they would learn to think it’s okay to hit other people. I think you have to find what works for you. I had a teacher who would turn the lights out when we got too loud, but then again we were older. I’m not sure I would do that in here because a few of them are scared of the dark. Another strategy that is well-known and works pretty well is counting to three.
There is a boy in our class now who needed to be seen for speech therapy. He was delayed, but it’s been about a month with that, and he is just overachieving now. He is still receiving services, but it’s less than it was. That was not at all what we expected. He was struggling a lot before he worked with her. They come to the classroom, and sometimes they do the activities with the other kids. Sometimes she will take him in a different room. A lot of times they will stay in the room though. I think that is good for him, because he feels like he is still part of the class. We don’t want him to suffer socially to pick up the academic piece.
Planning the activities is my favorite part about teaching. It’s fun sometimes to see what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes, you think this is going to be really awesome and then it’s a complete fail! And then just seeing how you can learn from what you think might go really well and doesn’t, and then what the kids are getting out of it. Sometimes it’s the lesson plans that you really didn’t expect to be successful that will just reach a student, and so I have learned to be open to trying new things even if there is some extra work on my part.
To future teachers, I would say it’s important to make sure that teaching is something that you really want to do, and something that you can really put your best effort into. I see people that are in this field who think that they want to do it, but then they are miserable. It doesn’t work out, and then the kids sense that too. I feel like you have to be really involved and want to do this work. The good news is, if you are in it for the right reasons—like you really want to help people—then you will get a lot out of it too. It is only when I think people come into it assuming it is an easy job, or a job that is fun all of the time, that they will be disappointed. But if you focus on the kids and what they need then you really can’t go wrong.
Miss Honeydew is a paired educator that works with students one on one to help the classroom teacher. She works in Gorham, New Hampshire and rates her overall teaching experience as an 8.
I have been a paired-educator teacher for about twenty-five years, and I only plan to teach for about another year. I enjoy it, but I am reaching retirement age, so social security is coming!!! This summer I can collect! I will still probably stay in education somehow. Maybe I will work as a substitute, or as a classroom volunteer, but not as a career anymore. I guess when I first started working here, I wasn’t so much of a one-on-one teacher. I was working with groups of students. I actually did a little play with some students from Thanksgiving, and it was pretty awesome [laughing]. You know, I kind of pulled it all together on my own. I think it was beyond expectations of what my job is.
They were fourth graders at the time, and they presented it to Kindergarten I’m pretty sure. I’m surprised that I could do that within the context of my job, but also keep up with the other things I was expected to do. It was really fun, and I still have the little play. It was just seeing them getting that confidence that made it special for me. These students were academically at risk. They were not really good readers. They, you know, were struggling with a lot of things, but this was a chance for them to shine. Drama! It’s great for the kids.
I work with third grade students this year. My most memorable teaching experience was working with a blind student from Kindergarten through fourth grade. I was assigned as a one-on-one to him. He learned braille while he was here. This was about eighteen years ago. He is now a very smart young man. Just watching him progress was really rewarding. He came to us with quite a few deficits. He was just turning five, so he would have just enrolled in Kindergarten. His birthday was in August, so he was a very young kindergartener. He really held his own academically with the other students despite his inability to see. Just being with him through those grades and watching him progress all the way up to fourth grade was great.
With permission from the school, I was also able to do a little bit of home visiting and organize personal things outside of school to do with him. Usually some of the rules are very stringent on that, but because of the relationship we built up, I was able to take him to a couple of different activities outside school grounds. That was a lot of fun. We did a thing at the Children’s Museum. He was really into all kinds of transportation. I think they were doing a train day. Trains were one of his favorite things. He loved all of the noises that they make. What a fun day that was. A separate time, we were also with another paired educator that worked with me, and we kind of split him. We had him on the train from here to Durham. We met both he and his sister, and we got ice cream and we did some fun things together. There was another time that we all went bowling.
My favorite part about teaching is watching students’ progress. Sometimes it happens more slowly, but there is always some growth, and it’s fun to see. I just enjoy being around the children. It just keeps you young! Maybe that’s why you didn’t know I was close to retirement [laughing].
My least favorite part of teaching is that I sometimes think we are too scheduled. There is not enough time to really go through one particular activity. I like to see a start and a finish for projects, but things are often compressed. We have to go, go go!! We don’t get time to really pause and reflect about what we are doing. We don’t get to appreciate things, because we have to stick to the schedule. You really can’t deviate from it. There are times when I’ll think, “I really want to do this today,” but I can’t. I have to stay on task, and I would like things to be more relaxed.
I have had children act out. I wouldn’t call myself a big disciplinarian. I think it’s better to try the soft approach. Sometimes I think kids just need some time and space. They need to have someone sit quietly next to them, and be a support there for them. That is my approach. There is usually a story behind it. They are just trying to process something else, and the behavior is coming out in a different way than it was intended.
There are a lot of demands as a teacher, but if your heart is in it then you have nothing to worry about. Let your heart lead the way and you will be fine.
Miss Indigo is a teacher that learned the art of teaching at the early age of twelve. She currently teaches fifth grade in Hanover, New Hampshire. Miss Indigo rates her overall experience as a 10.
I have been a teacher for five years. Well actually, I have probably been teaching since I was twelve through instructing other students in my class. Then I worked as a ski instructor as a teenager. I also worked at a nursery school before working here. I just always liked helping people and teaching came naturally out of that.
My degree is in engineering. I only thought I would be doing this until my kids got a little older, but then I kept doing it another year and then another year. They are thirteen now, but I just keep doing it. I enjoy it. My husband is away during the week, and I needed a job because I hate housework [laughing]. I was like, “Of course I’m going to teach, right?” I needed to get out of the house, and my kids were old enough. Of course, it was teaching.
I have probably had a great thing happen every year. My best teaching experience happened recently. I wasn’t the one actually teaching at the time, but I got to witness it. This one just outshines the others. I went with fifth grade to a nearby outdoors center. It is a two-day thing that the fifth graders get to do. It’s about learning team building skills. It is done by all of these fun exercises, and they teach them how to work in groups.
There are professionals that take a group of maybe ten students, and they split the classroom up into teams. That counselor will, through two days and fun activities, teach the children how to be successful in a group dynamic. They learn about sharing, and listening to one another, and it’s really fabulous. That first exercise tripped them up. It took them over an hour to take a rubber chicken that the instructor put behind his feet across the line. The kids had to get it across the line without the instructor knowing who got it across the line.
It took them forever, but it ended up being great. Every time that the instructor heard a noise, he would turn around. First, he would put his hands over his ears like this to warn them, and then he would turn around. If he saw any movement, he had to send them back. If he saw someone with the chicken, the chicken had to come back. Of course they all ran. They were arguing. It was just mayhem.
By the end, he had a break about three quarters of a way through to ask what was going well, and what was not going well. He didn’t lead them to the answer at all. They came up with a collective solution. They did it. It was amazing. I was just so proud when they got it. It was truly incredible to watch them. There were ten kids in a group just seriously yelling at each other, and then suddenly they were this team getting it done. I wasn’t the instructor, but just witnessing my students working together like that was really special.
It’s hard to say if I have made a difference in a student’s life. I don’t know if I’m being modest or not. I can tell you that every year, I ski instruct. I get the beginners, the ones who don’t even know how to put on skis. By the end of the week, they are skiing down the bunny slope, and sometimes even the more challenging slopes. Every year, that is what I look forward to. In the classroom, there is nothing so dramatic as far as seeing progress in the short-term. Over the long-term, if you think about what a child was like at the beginning of the year versus the end of the year, it is such a big change. It is really gratifying that, as teachers, we have been a part of that transformation.
My first year of teaching, I had a really tough class. There were some really challenging children, and it was an incredibly intense year. I suppose I just thought that the next year would be the same. I didn’t anticipate the dynamic of the class to change every year. That was probably the most surprising. Every year is just so different. It sticks with you. Sometimes it forces you to tweak your style. You get different personalities and it forces you to adapt a bit, so you have to be flexible. No two years will be the same, but that is also what makes this job so fun.
Last year’s class was tough because of one student in particular. This particular child went from white to black, happy to crying, in a matter of minutes. One day the behavior got so bad that the classroom had to be evacuated except for this child and myself. This child was physical toward me. I had been trained to learn how to hold a child so that they aren’t hurting you and you aren’t hurting them. It is kind of like this embrace where you have their arms in place so they can’t move too much. You are supposed to sit with them until they calm down. It was really surprising to me how this child did not calm down.
You have requirements in the classroom. It was a very simple situation. She was not allowed to read during eating time. I made a comment to put the book away while she was eating, and that was it. In hindsight, perhaps I would have just let it go, if I’d have known it would have caused so much of a conflict. My thinking at that point was that if one child sees another person doing it, they will say, “How come I can’t do it?” BUT, as teachers, we need to learn how to explain situations like that. You would just let her read, and then learn how to explain that situation to the other children in the class. It’s a public school, and you need to learn how to educate everyone. I had never experienced a reaction like that. It really surprised me. It is bad for the student, for the other children in the class, and for all of the teachers involved. That was really tough.
There is a class that we are getting on Friday that deals with situations exactly like that. I have taken the class before, soon after this incident happened. I thought I was saying all of the right things to calm this child down, you know? I am second guessing myself about a class that I took two years ago. It’s great to know the other professionals that have more education. It took a long time. It was fun. It was fun. But second-guessing yourself is a big thing, especially in the moment when you have such a violent reaction over something small and insignificant.
After the incident, a social development counselor came in. I think she had the principal with her, and they both came in. The protocol is that once she gets to a point where she is acting violently, the priority is to diffuse the situation. They were not focused on punishment, because her psychosis is so up and down. She was on the playground ten minutes later as happy as can be. It was totally mind blowing. So it gets very complicated. Basically, with a child like that who has the issues that she has, they knew that once she calmed down the danger would be gone.
They also knew that it was always only directed towards adults, never towards other children. That is why she could play on the playground right after. They felt it would be better for her to join the group. I understand the reasoning behind it. I also feel like, “Where is the lesson in that?” It’s not okay to be doing that, and what does it say to the other children? They saw what happened, and now they see her out at recess ten minutes later. Those situations are really tough.
Teaching is like putting together a puzzle. Every day is great, because they are like little puzzles. There is a new little puzzle every day. It is not boring. It is challenging. So, every day is challenging, but it’s fun. They are little kids, and they always come up with cute little anecdotes or sayings. You are giggling every day. It’s just fun.
I would advise future teachers to should shadow as many different teachers as you can. Find your style. I think it pays to do a ton of work during the first year. Do your homework and finish your lesson plans. Get it organized. You will die your first year getting that done, but it will save you for every year after that point. Also, being prepared every day enables you to have more fun with the kids.
Miss Jillian is a one-room schoolhouse teacher at a Seventh-day Adventist School in Champlain, Vermont. She is also the head of school. She rates her teaching experience as a 9.
I have only been teaching for five years. I will probably teach for a few more years, and then I will take a break to have some children of my own. But, after starting a family with my husband, I will definitely go back to teaching. This is a one-room schoolhouse, so all of the kids are in one class. I have spent all five years teaching at this school.
We have mixed grades here, so you don’t know for sure what grades you are going to get ahead of the school year. I had a first grader last year. That was actually really tough. I had had mostly seventh and eighth graders before that, and having kids in the young grades is hard because they aren’t always used to the full school day yet.
It ended up being all the more rewarding because the little one’s progress was so evident. Watching her come in at the beginning of the year knowing very little about reading, and then seeing her be able to read on her own by the end of the year was really satisfying. I think that having the older kids in here to look up to really helped with that. It helps create an environment where they are motivated to learn.
My lowest class size has been six. My highest has been nine. Last year, I had seven different grades. I taught every grade from first through eighth except for second grade. It was TOUGH. How smoothly things go really does depend on the year. It’s not always dependent on the number of kids. This year, I only have third and fifth grade; but with the kids I do have, it is a huge handful just because of some of the kids and their personalities. Other years, I have had six grades but it has worked really well. Usually multi-grade classrooms work amazingly well. The kids have to learn to be independent.
The first two months of school is literally like teaching them how to be organized… TRY to be organized is how I should put it. We show them how to work on things independently a little bit, and then it’s just a lot of, “Do this, and I will come check on you.” If you would sit in here to observe, it’s a lot different than in a public school. The kids really do well with this setup. The older kids really help the younger kids a lot, which also helps reinforce things to them [the older kids]. It’s a rare thing see these days, and it’s one of the reasons I like teaching in a one-room schoolhouse.
The hardest subject to teach is Math because everyone is individualized. You can’t say, “Okay, group math class.” You can do a group history class, a group science class, or a group social studies class and just differentiate the workload. For example, right now I am teaching Native American history to all of the kids. The younger boys will get different assignments than the fifth graders. The older kids will write papers, or they will do research projects, and the boys will experiment with making Indian symbols.
We can teach the same concept, but then individualize the instruction for their homework and classwork based on the grade they are in. There used to be a preschool here as well. They had them in some of the other rooms. It’s actually helpful having a couple of rooms be vacant in here. My aid, who is absolutely amazing, had this wonderful idea for using one. I have a student who is really hard for me this year. He has some learning disabilities.
This child does stuff that is completely off topic, and it disrupts the class. For example, he likes to shoot bow and arrows, and he’ll pretend that he’s shooting one all of the time. So she says to me, “He needs to get it out of his system. Why don’t we put him in the other room, and give him a target and he can pretend to shoot a bow and arrow.” It’s so awesome to have her here.
She has been working in special education, and teaching, for thirty years so she knows way more than I about a lot of things. For some reason it never came to my mind to just let him do it and get it out of his system. But his behavior changed drastically after that, and I was like, “Why didn’t I think of that?” So I use these other rooms all of the time. I let him go do it. He comes back, does his work, and he’s fine. That was a really simple thing, something that I felt like was so dumb, but it was great and really worked for him.
I think that my favorite part of teaching is when I have kids, or their parents, tell me that they enjoyed their last two years of school. This happened when I first started, and I had been their teacher for exactly two years. Hearing that this is the most that they have ever enjoyed school made me feel so good. I try not to get a big head or anything, because that is horrible, but it makes me feel like I am doing my job right.
My favorite part of time is going to sound fun—especially because everyone thinks that teachers don’t work during the summer. That’s not true!! We totally do. We work a lot during the summer. I actually really enjoy making units for the school year during the summer time. Most of all, I like seeing when kids grasp a concept that didn’t make sense to them. You can see in their eyes the moment that it’s clicked. I love being able to see they have made connections between subjects. Watching them pull something in math into science or from science into other areas is really rewarding.
My most memorable experience would probably be watching kids, especially boys that don’t enjoy reading and writing, learn how to enjoy learning. I have kids come in who just hate it, so teaching them to find books that they are interested in has been really memorable. I also like gathering them to a point where we are a community. If a teacher does her job right, she can create a real solidarity that really bonds the kids together. It’s also great because for some kids, this is where they learn how to interact with people their own age.
Another great experience has been seeing them miss school as they leave. That is really memorable because I know that at least something I did got them to enjoy school. To me, that means not only did they get the academics, but they also got the social stuff. It means they enjoyed the year together.
My least favorite part of teaching is probably grading. Sometimes dealing with the parents can be really tough. I haven’t had a lot of bad experiences, but some of them were challenging… like, it can be hard when parents believe their kids over you. One of the reasons it’s tough is because up until that point, I feel like we had a great relationship. If their kid has an incident in class, and you do your job and address it, all that it takes if for the child to relay something different to their parents for that relationship to be broken. I understand why a kid doesn’t want to be in trouble when he goes home, but it really puts me, as the teacher, in a difficult place because the trust I have built with the parents is damaged after that. So, that is probably the hardest thing.
I have had children act out many times. This year, I have an aid that has helped a lot with that. I am not always so lucky. I am so glad that she is here with me for this year in particular because of that one student I was telling you about. The setup has worked really well for this year. She will take him aside and work with him individually if he starts to get off task. Other years, when I haven’t had an aid and have had students act out, I usually would bring the child into another room and try to calm him or her down myself.
If they are really worked up, or if they have been rude, I still take the kid aside and will say, “Hey what’s going on?” I find that a lot of times when kids act out it is too show off, or they are really frustrated. They need alone time. It’s really nice that I have other rooms, because I can tell them to take their work in there. For a lot of them, that is what they need to settle down.
The best advice that I can give to future teachers is not to try and prove to your kids that you know everything. Be vulnerable to them. They enjoy seeing a person that is real. It’s much better than seeing someone who is trying to be real. Admit when you are writing on the board and you missed a word or you read it wrong. Make a joke out of it. Be able to laugh at yourself. Teaching is so much more enjoyable when you can laugh at yourself.
Miss Katz began her teaching career in South Korea after graduating from college. She rates her overall teaching experience as a 9.
I started working as an English Second Language teacher in South Korea in 2009. When I first moved there, it was during the Swine Flu outbreak. Some of my kids had the swine flu, and they closed down the Kindergarten for a whole week. It was quite the initiation.
When you first go over to teach in Korea, you don’t get any training or anything. They just throw you in a classroom. They are like, “Well, go ahead and teach the class!” My degree wasn’t in Education. It was in Communication. So, I had literally never had a day teaching a class or anything. All of a sudden, I was on the other side of the world in a foreign country with all of these kids who don’t speak English. They don’t speak your language, and you don’t speak their language, and you have to figure out a way to teach them. It was really frustrating in the beginning.
When I first moved to Korea, I didn’t know a single word of Korean. I didn’t know a single person there. It was just totally foreign. It is really hard living in a totally foreign culture, and then having to do a job that you’ve never done before. A lot of the kids have really weird names. In some of the schools in Korea, the kids get to pick out an English name. Sometimes they just pick a word that they like. This one kid in my class really liked lions, so his English name was Lion. So, I had a Lion in my class.
During class, I would have to say, “Yes, Lion? What is the answer?” I had a Jupiter. Jupiter was my best student. There was a Princess… just a lot of strange names. I taught at this other school where every student was named after a Simpson’s character. My manager was from the U.K., and she thought that it would be really funny to name a class of little kids after the Simpsons television show, so she chose the names for them. There was a Bart, a Monty, a Lisa, a Marge, a Mo. The kids had no idea, but then Monty’s mom called in and complained, so we had to change all of their names.
You know how fashionable things in the United States will have like a French word on them? In Korea, it is the same way but with English words. A lot of the kids will have stationary that has English words on it. They have t-shirts that say something really inappropriate, but the kids have no idea. Once, I had this cute little third grade girl that came in. She had this notebook that had all of these little prescription pills dancing around the paper. It had really inappropriate words on it too. There was even a hypodermic needle on there. It happened so frequently that nobody really said anything. The teachers spoke English, so I’m sure that they saw it, but I never saw anyone get into trouble.
It was really challenging to manage kids with special needs. In Korea, they don’t treat kids with learning disabilities the same way that we do in the United States. We are really fortunate in the United States that, if there is a kid in your class that is showing developmental problems or behavioral problems, there is a speech language pathologist and a school counselor, and a school psychologist. There are all sorts of people that you can go to for help. There are a lot of resources. In Korea, it is not like that. I had a kid in my class who was Autistic. He was severely Autistic, and his parents just ignored the problem. They didn’t want the stigma of having a kid with a learning disability, so they wouldn’t get him any treatment.
The parents wouldn’t get him any help, and the school wouldn’t get him any help, so he would just scream and yell for like six hours every day. This kid would constantly throw things. I couldn’t turn my back for two seconds because, if I did, he would have a sharpened pencil in his hand and be trying to stab another kid. He tried to stab someone with scissors one time. It nearly gave me a heart attack.
He would bite me. He would hit me. He would kick me. I did everything in my power to try to help him. I tried to intervene on his behalf, but my boss said, “Oh no, like, we can’t do anything because then his mother will take him out of the school and the school will lose the money.” They just don’t treat learning disabilities the same way over there that we do in United States.
Another hard thing is that workers’ rights aren’t the same in Korea. A lot of teachers here belong to a union. They have certain rights. It’s not like that in Korea. I liked working in Korea, but I worked for one school that stole five thousand dollars from me. They took my pension. They deducted a hundred dollars every month from my pension, but instead of putting it into my pension account, they pocketed it.
So, I worked for five years, and I lost all of that money. You make between 2 to 2.3 million wong, which is about two thousand dollars, a month. That is the standard. If you have a lot of experience, or a master’s degree, you can make a lot more. So, you make maybe, twenty-four or twenty five thousand dollars a year, but you don’t pay for your housing, and you don’t pay for your flights. You get full benefits so it’s a pretty good deal. They took my severance too, and there is just nothing that you can do about it. I went to the Labor Board, the Immigration Office, even the Health Insurance Office, and no one could help me. It was really, really frustrating. In the United States, we are fortunate that there are labor laws. Teachers have pretty good rights here, but it wasn’t like that in Korea… especially being a foreigner. People don’t treat you the same.
When you teach in Korea, they provide you with housing as part of a standard contract. Housing is kind of hit or miss over there. They give you a studio apartment, and sometimes it’s really nice, but sometimes it’s not nice at all [laughing]. I loved my apartment my first year. It was right in the center of the city. I had lots of friends that lived in my building. My second year, the room was infested with black mold and there were so many cockroaches in my apartment that, when I turned my lights off at night, I could hear them scurrying around the ceiling. They’d fall down onto my bed while I was sleeping. I kind of knew that that is what I was getting myself into. Still, it was gross.
The following year, everything in my apartment was broken. The refrigerator was broken. The toilet was broken. The shower was broken. Everything was broken. Luckily, I was dating a guy in the Army at the time, so I would go and I would stay with him every chance that I could get. He lived an hour and a half away, so I would have to commute.
He lived an hour and a half north of Seoul, way up by the DMZ, which is the North Korean border. I stayed with him about half of the time. He was a captain in the Army, so I would have to wake up at 5:00am, be at the train by 5:30am, and then ride the train for an hour and a half in order to be at work on time. When work was over, I ran back to the station.
I’d have to sprint from my school as fast as I could in order to make the train. It was like four or five blocks away. Then, I’d have to connect twice. I would get there at about eight or nine o’clock at night. I’d have two hours before I had to fall asleep. Then I woke up at five in the morning to do it all again. The trains in Korea are crazy. If you think rush hour here is bad, it is nothing compared to Korea. There are a thousand people crammed in, and when the train doors open, people sprint to make their next train. It’s complete chaos.
There were two different teaching shifts. The kindergarten and preschool teachers worked an all day program. They would come in at 9:00am or 9:30am and be there until 6:30pm at night. The afternoon teachers would usually come in at like 1:30pm and be there until like 9:30pm at night. I worked both shifts. My first year, I started off with the older kids so I worked the afternoon shift, and then my second year was the same thing. The rest of my time there, I taught preschool and kindergarten, so I was in the early shift.
When I worked at this one University, I lived right there at the University. It was a fantastic job. I worked at the summer camp teaching intensive English to advanced fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students. I got to live in one of the professor’s apartments. They were really nice but they were on the side of a mountain, so any time I wanted to go somewhere, I had to hike up or down this tall mountain.
It took forty-five minutes to get into town. It took me an hour to get to the train station. It was the middle of summer, so it’s really hot. So I wanted to go out at night. I would be wearing high heels and full makeup, and a nice outfit, and then I had to hike down the mountain. When I came back later than night, I had to hike back up the mountain, so I had really good legs then.
I didn’t really decide to go into teaching. I fell into the career. I went into school for sports broadcasting, that’s what I really wanted to do, but I couldn’t find a job. Well, I could have found a job but it would have taken a really long time. I would have had to relocate, and I would have had a lot of bills to pay.
I needed a job ASAP, and I knew some people who had taught ESL overseas. They liked it, so I applied for a job through a recruiter. I heard back a couple of days later, and they offered me a job. It all happened so quickly. I signed the contract and I just left. I didn’t know anything about Korea or teaching. I thought it would be exciting, like an adventure, and it was.
I didn’t plan to stay for five years, but I did. When I first signed the contract, one year seemed like such a long time. I thought that I would go for just one year. It took a while for me to adjust. My first year, I thought about quitting all of the time, and I thought about coming back because I felt like I was missing out on a lot back home. I came so close to quitting. Every day for a month, I came in with the intention to quit, but I could never work up the courage to tell my boss, so I ended up staying the whole year. By the end of the year, I really liked it. I had good friends. The social life is really fun.
The school doesn’t really have anything to do with the social life. You meet a lot of people through the school though. Like, I became friends with a lot of the foreign teachers at my school, and on the weekends we would go into Itaewon and Hongdae. If you go there on a Friday or Saturday night, you will see hundreds and hundreds of English teachers. They are the two nightlife districts. There was so much partying that goes on with English teachers in Korea. There are tens of thousands of English teachers living in Korea, so I had so many friends from the U.S. and from Canada. I was doing really well at my job, so they asked me to stay another year. I ended up staying.
The best part of being there was the friends. I made the best friends I’ve ever had while I was in Korea. Your family is not there, so your friends and your co-workers become your family. They are really important to you. I have taught in the U.S. too, and your co-workers are nice. They are your friends, but the bond isn’t the same as when you’re overseas and you are all living in a foreign country together. Even, you know, friends I made five or six years ago I am still in close contact with them. I think just the friends that I made. I went on a lot of really fun trips while I was in Korea. I went to the Philippines, and Thailand, and Malaysia.
I have thought about going back, but it wouldn’t be the same because most of my friends have left. If I ever went back, it would just remind me so much of my early twenties with my friends there so it would be bitter sweet. So I don’t think I will go back. I would be more likely to visit other areas that I haven’t seen before. Most of the people I worked with spoke English. There was also seven or eight foreign teachers in my school, who were from English speaking countries, so there were people from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, the U.K., Canada.
I worked with people from pretty much every English speaking country. Some of the Korean teachers spoke English. If they were teaching English, then they did. Some of the Administrators didn’t speak any English. At my very first school, this was an English only school, and the owner of the Academy couldn’t speak English. So, he opened this English school not knowing any English. Luckily he was this really nice person to work for. I only went to English Academies, so the kids would go to their regular elementary school or high school during the day, and after the end of the school day, they would come to my academy and study English for between forty five minutes and three hours.
One year, I was teaching this class of fifteen and sixteen year olds, and I had the class with all of the naughty kids. I tried to be a really strict disciplinarian, and that didn’t work at all. Then I leaned too far the other way. You know the whole good cop/bad cop analogy? I went from being the bad teacher to the good teacher. I had tried being the bad cop and that didn’t work, so I wanted to see what being the nice cop would do. I tried to be really understanding and really patient with them, and that worked. They respected me, and they were good students, but sometimes they would still think up trouble. We had a break halfway through class.
So one day, I went to go get some water during the break and when I came back, I started teaching the class. That class ended at 9:55 at night. So I look up at the clock not too long after that, and it’s like 9:55pm, so I’m like, “Okay, I guess we can go home. Bye, see you next time.” So all of the kids leave. They are out in the hallway, and they are cracking up laughing so hard. I am like, “What’s so funny?” One the boys looked up at me and said, “I set the clock twenty minutes ahead of time.” All of the kids were in on it. I should have gotten mad, scolded them and given them detention, but it was Friday night and I was actually glad to be out of work twenty minutes early, so I let them go.
Another time, I was teaching a class of all sixth grade boys. Sixth grade is the toughest grade to teach. All of the teachers know that sixth grade is the hardest. So this was my very first year of teaching and I didn’t really know what I was doing yet, and I had this really hard class. One day, I walked to class to teach the class. The whole class, the boys were giggling and laughing, but that is pretty typical of them. So, uhm, anyways, the class was about an hour long. At the end of class, I give them their homework. We line up at the door, and all of the sudden, this kid climbs up from underneath of the table.
He had been hiding underneath of the table the entire class. It was like a round table that all of the students sat at, and I was in front of the board, so he was just hiding the entire class. I just shook my head and laughed because what else could I do? He was a trouble-maker, so I just laughed about it. I don’t remember specifics of what he did. He was just kind of a wise guy. He was sarcastic.
At that age, in sixth grade, school stops being cool for a lot of kids. They are trying to impress their friends. They are trying to be cool. The boys are trying to impress the girls. The girls are trying to impress the boys. So around that age, kids start acting out a little more. But I had some sixth graders who were really wonderful. I enjoyed teaching that age. High school students are a lot more self-sufficient. With older students, the material is harder. But the behavioral classroom management is much, much easier. With the younger kids, classroom management is much more difficult, but the material is much easier. It’s a give and take. I liked working with the high school students and the older students, the middle school students, because you can really have an effect on their lives.
I really liked how with the older students, a lot of them didn’t really like studying English. It was a necessary evil. So I really liked how I could make English fun for them, and I could make them enthusiastic about learning it. I liked that it was not just memorizing grammar rules. We would do a lot of fun things in our classes. We listened to music videos. We would memorize songs. We would have parties. I tried to have them apply the English they were learning in real life situations.
I liked all of the places that I taught pretty much the same. I had a student named Jupiter who I really liked. She was really smart. She entered a debate contest in English, and she won it. I was really proud of her. She was in seventh grade. I liked working with the older kids a little bit more than the younger kids, but I liked working with all different age groups for different reasons.
The younger kids are more enthusiastic about learning. They have a lot of energy, and everything is so exciting for them. But I also like working with the older kids, because you can have real conversations with them. Most of them had been studying English for years. It’s really important for them, because they have to pass an English test for their college entrance exam, so they are really motivated.
Teaching can be very rewarding, but it is also very challenging. A lot of people think, especially when you are a preschool or Kindergarten teacher, you think all you do every day is sing nursery rhymes and read stories and what is so hard about that? They don’t realize that you are dealing with stomach bugs, and learning disabilities, and parents who are really not so nice.
Mrs. Lauren is an eighth grade teacher at a Catholic school in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. She rates her overall experience as a 10.
I have been in [teaching] since I graduated from college in 1989, so I’ve been in education for twenty-six years and I have been in this diocese for twenty years. I am currently teaching eighth grade, but I also have fifth through seventh grades for Math.
I really didn’t plan on having older kids. I always thought I’d stick with third grade, or around there. I started off teaching second grade for three years, and then I ended up going up to St. Michael’s in Loretto, Pennsylvania where they needed someone to teach middle school. I was up there about five or seven years. I had fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth for Math, and that is when I got a taste for the older kids. Since then, I have always had five through eight.
I have come to really enjoy all of the grades that I’ve taught, because they all have their own unique qualities. I do the aftercare program after school, so I get to see all of the little kids. I enjoy all of them. I probably would not go lower than third or fourth because
I have been in the older grades for so long, and because I enjoy the content areas. I always say that I can’t teach the days of the week every day of the week [laughing]. You know? At some point, you are like, “You’ve got to know that much!” I like the content that I am able to do with the upper grades. I have always liked Math. It has been my focus, and I enjoy it. I have done that for a lot of years.
I plan to teach until I die. No, [laughing] probably until I’m retired. With the current school changes, I would probably just teach as long as I could. Our model here has always been K-8, but now they want to switch and consolidate the Catholic schools because of numbers and enrollment. A lot of it is financial, so they are going to consolidate the diocese and make two grade schools.
This school will become K-4, and then the other school will go 5-8. I will most likely get placed at the middle school, because in addition to my elementary education certificate, I am also certified seven through nine in math. Personally, I prefer the combined elementary model we’ve had up ‘til now so I’m a little upset about it.
The reason the combined model works so well is because it helps us build leadership and responsibility. It benefits both groups. We tell the older kids that they are the role models for the little kids, so the older kids have a motivation to behave. The younger kids like to see the older ones and it makes school more fun, I think, when both ages are in the same building. When it is just the middle school, the older kids almost don’t know how to act. You know what I mean?
Peer pressure is just too much for them. I think that the middle school grade level is so much about following the follower. They aren’t thinking about the model they set for the younger kids. Instead, they look to each other on how to act. Unfortunately, it really is a malleable time for the kids. Middle school is that odd age where they are kids, but they are also young adults. So that’s why I like the K-8 model. I think it helps having the younger students in school with the older kids. I am sad that it will be changing next year, but we will adjust.
One of the great things about teaching is the impact you can have on the children. While I was teaching eighth grade, one of my students came to see me at the hospital. That meant a lot to me. It’s also special when you have them say, “You inspired me to be a teacher.” It’s humbling, and it’s also such a joy. It’s also neat to, later in life, see the results of all of your hard work. That’s a big part of why I enjoy teaching every day, because you can really make a difference.
I had this one student who had a really rough time in high school after she left my classroom. She lives in Pittsburgh now, and I still keep in touch with her. She was really, really smart. While she was in high school, she had a really bad car accident, and she spent almost all of her senior year in the hospital with two casts.
This poor girl ended up having a brain injury, and it prevented her from becoming a doctor. She was super motivated, and super smart, and she could have gone all the way with it. She ended up going on to college, and I’m pretty sure she became a nurse. She does fine now, she is still just a little bit slower. She said she wouldn’t have fast enough reflexes to be an emergency room doctor anymore. That was her dream. But she has a daughter now, and she got married.
It made me really happy to see she didn’t let that setback prevent her from finding a happy life. You know? It’s neat to see that she did great for herself and still overcame all of that. Seeing the students who struggle, whether it’s in your classroom or later in life, do well is really wonderful.
I enjoy helping the kids discover gifts and talents that even they didn’t know were there. An extra thing that I do for fun is coach Forensics. I’ll help them with their presentations. I think back to when I was in grade school. I never would have had the guts to stand up there and give a speech in grade school, let alone to see the kids come up with stuff on their own. I can help them and guide them, but the idea for what they want to do comes from them. To see the end product come out of them is awesome. They achieve, and it’s neat to be a part of that…to help others uncover their gifts and talents. You know? So, for me, I really do enjoy every aspect of my job.
The Catholic school system has been such a joy. I can honestly say that between the atmosphere and the kids, I really do love what I do. I know that we are spoiled in Catholic schools because we don’t have any bad kids. We have academically motivated kids. It really allows you to do so much throughout the year. I imagine it can be such a distraction having to take time away for discipline. Having the same kids act out every day seems like it would be tough. So, it’s really been a joy for me to teach in the Catholic school system. I love it every day [laughing]. You always have your days where you are tired, but I can honestly say that I love teaching. I really do.
I love how every year is different, and that every kid is different. It is joyous to be a part of that. Like, sometimes I will think, “How could a Doctor be a Doctor?” I’m so glad that we have them; but to me, dealing with sickness is just the worst. Our worst day as teachers is having rowdy kids. They are good. They are happy. They are healthy. You know? We really get to see the very best part of life, because we see kids. That’s a joy. I’ve always taken off of work when my own kids were babies. It goes so quick [laughing]. When the kids were little, I was home full time. I have my two girls with me this afternoon. They enjoy coming to my room after school, which is great.
I always try to connect what we are learning to something that they can relate to, or I will make it hands on. I want to reach the kinesthetic learners. I apply it to their life. You know? With fractions, for example, I came up with a silly one. I was teaching them how to borrow from five, like five minus four and one third. It is funny, but I will say, “Trace your hand. Okay, you have just had an accident, and four of your fingers got cut off.” I like to make it a little bit silly, like I will make a song or act things out for them, because it keeps learning fun for them. Even when I teach perimeter, we have my Perry bug [pointing to a stuffed animal]. He goes around the outside of the figure since perimeter is the sum of all of the sides. I have a fuzzy stuffed animal that is a caterpillar, and I will say, “Here comes Perry bug!” I have him crawl around the outside of the desk [laughing].
I try to do all different ones that the kids will understand a little bit easier. With fractions, the biggest thing we are doing now is borrowing, which is very hard for them. I always have candy in my classroom. We will use packs of Smarties, and I ask them how are you going to give somebody 1/12 of your Smarties’? So we will open a pack. If I can get their hands on something tangible then it makes it real, which is great. For eighth grade, even for their birthdays, at the beginning of the year I develop an inventory of what they like for candy. So, for their birthday, I get them the movie popcorn size of their favorite candy. I give them the thing that they like for their birthday. Tomorrow is Ben’s birthday, so I have to look at the list after this and see what he likes.
So there are different things that can work well. I always try to make it real. When the eighth grade was learning about slope, I used a little figurine of a woman. I put her at the top of the slope and said, “Okay, she is going down the ski slope, so it’s a negative slope. Whenever she is going up, it becomes a positive slope.” I just try to make it stuff from their everyday lives. I want to connect how it applies to them, and how it can apply to their lives. You know?
Even with the kids who struggle in math, I enjoy trying to teach it in different ways to get them to get it. I really enjoy when they have that, “Aha!” moment. You know what I mean? They are like, “I got it!” and you are like, “Yes!!” [Laughing]. I just enjoy being a part of their achievement, and moving them forward. It’s neat now that I can see their progression from fifth grade to eighth grade. I like to always challenge them to be better, and to see them start to challenge themselves a little bit too. When something has been hard to understand, and they are struggling for a while, to finally be able to say, “I can do this!” is really meaningful. I really love seeing their individual talents. Everybody has them. I am probably good at Math, but I know I am not good at Art. I love to be able to see the talent of the young person; whether it’s music, or drawing, or singing at Mass, to see them develop their talents is a joy.
I have had them fill out papers thinking what they want to be when they grow up, or they draw family just to make the classroom theirs. There is a football and a basketball I have hanging on the wall. Just those little things makes it fun for the kids. Each of the kids’ cubbies have a cornucopia with all of the things they are grateful for. That was in October. Every month I have them decorate something new and then it either gets in the cubby, or on the wall and then they can bring it home. Usually I put them on the door. Those weekends where we come in, Erin will put it in the cubbies while Pat decorates. It is very fun. My whole life has been around our family, and the school.
A fun game I will play with the kids is an adaptation of Guess Who? The idea behind the game is to get to know each other better. So I have them write on a slip of paper an answer to the question, “What is something that nobody knows about you?” Then we try to guess who it is. For example, I will read a slip of paper that says “I am an only child” and then we go around the room trying to guess who it is. It helps them to get to know each other. It also helps me get to know them.
In the beginning of the year, I always dedicate time for getting to know each other. Even when pairing them up, I make it engaging and have them talk to new people. I’ll say, “Today you are going to be paired up by all of the people in your family. Find someone in this class who shares the same first letter in their name as you do.” They start to learn stuff about one another. One time, this was so cute, I had a child yell out, “My Dad and—we’ll call him Billy—have the same middle name!” It’s fun for them.
You can also say, “Find someone who has about the same color hair as you,” or “Look for somebody who has the same last digit of your phone number.” They realize that they have more in common than they probably thought they did. I never stop learning new ways to get them to interact with one another. I think that as a teacher you are always learning new ways to get through to them.
It’s neat when kids come back and say, “Oh, you were my favorite teacher.” It surprised me, but I actually hear that one a lot. I enjoy seeing the kids achieve. It’s fun to watch them grow and change. I want to see them reach that next level of achievement in every area of their lives, including their faith. I teach religion to fifth grade, so I enjoy being a part of that growth.
My favorite part of teaching in a Catholic school is getting to focus everything on God. I love being able to connect the subjects to our faith. In Math, for example, I will say that everyone has a different brain. That means that some of you can get the Math problem in thirty seconds. For some it takes three seconds, and for others it takes three minutes. So what? Who cares [laughing]?
God gives all of us talents, and no one talent is more important, or “better,” than another one. I tell them how I’m not good at mental math. I have to see the problem in front of me. I am a visual learner, and because of that, I try to teach using different modalities. It makes me a better teacher because kids learn in different ways, and I try to reach them wherever their point of need is.
Miss Mayflower is a fourth grade teacher from Dover New Hampshire. She rates her overall teaching experience as a 10.
I have been a teacher for 22 years. I taught first grade for a few years, and when I moved to New Hampshire, I started working here with the fourth graders.
There is definitely a difference. I don’t know if I would recommend one grade over another, you just have to see what you enjoy and what is available. How much longer I plan to teach depends on a few things. My retirement plan is not for twelve more years, so at least that long.
Some days, I leave here, and I feel really great. Then some days, I leave here, and I feel frustrated. Overall, I wouldn’t have done it for twenty-two years if there weren’t more days with nines or tens. I don’t know what else I would do. For the whole twenty-two years that I have been a teacher, I would give it a ten.
There have been so many memorable experiences. I had a student who was in an abusive situation at home. He ran away from home and showed up at school the next day, and he only wanted to speak with me. It really spoke to the connection that I had with that group of students, and how close we were, that he trusted me in that situation. The situation was that his stepparent had punched him in the face, and that is what caused him to run away. The fact it was so memorable had nothing to do with academics.
It was memorable because of the connection that I had with that particular child. He didn’t want to talk to the guidance counselor. He didn’t want to talk to the principal. He would only talk to me, with the condition that I not call home yet. He didn’t want his parents to know where he was. I did help him a lot and he is now one of my Facebook friends. He is in the military.
He is married now. I think that he and his wife had their first baby. I am Facebook friends with a lot of my kids. As soon as they hit, like, eighteen I’m cool with it. If they friend me, then I will friend them. But before then I don’t [laughing].
I spend a lot of time on work even outside of the school. I spend at least four or five hours over the weekend, and usually it’s more than that. I also spend a lot more time outside of class when it is time for report cards. I think the reason they are so time consuming is that you start to develop relationships with the kids, and it’s hard to condense all of that onto a sheet of paper. Sometimes things can get misconstrued.
I had a situation once because the parent misinterpreted what I wrote about her daughter. I said something positive, but I guess to the girl’s Mom it seemed like a negative thing. I wish I could remember what words I had used. Oh, well. But yeah, ever since that experience, I find myself taking a lot of time filling those out. I have dealt with parents on both ends of the spectrum.
Sometimes they refuse to believe that their child is anything short of perfect. Other times, I can just sense the parents sees the worst in their child no matter what I say. I tend to feel a little discontent in those situations. I would rather a parent really believe in her kid.
I had this one experience where the Mom didn’t believe her son was acting out during class. He was a pretty smart kid, but he was also a bit of a show off, and it could get pretty distracting. I ended up having a sit down with her and her son and the principal. To this day, I don’t know if she believed me but the behavior did improve after that.
My advice to future teachers is to be kind to yourself. You are going to have some days that go smoother than others, and that is normal. You have to take the good with the bad, and understand that this job is not about us at all. It’s really about the kids. If you are focused on helping them, you really can’t go wrong.
Miss Napoli is a third grade teacher from Dover, New Hampshire. She rates her overall teaching experience as a 10.
I have taught elementary school for fifteen years. I did some nursery school before that for two or three years. I switched because I stayed home for thirteen years with my children before coming back, and by that point I wanted to work with older kids. After teaching the younger kids, I knew that I wanted to work with an older group. I also didn’t like the monotony of teaching one subject to different grades, so third grade was a good fit for me. I have one or two more years to go and then I am retiring.
I can’t imagine doing any other job because every day is so different and exciting. I love that each day that I come in there is something different going on. In fifteen years, I have never had two days that are the same, and I just love just watching the kids grow. I had a student who started off the year not doing any of his homework. I talked to his parents and suggested that getting him a homework planner might help. They started initialing the homework that he had completed, and the accountability at home seemed to really make a difference. It was neat for me to watch him start off the year a certain way, and by halfway through the year, he was like a completely different student.
My least favorite part of teaching is the amount of time it can take for planning. I hate the amount of time that it takes to do the minutiae and crap, like the paperwork. I probably spend at least two extra hours here in the building every day when I don’t need to be here, and then maybe an hour or so at home almost every day. I spend about twenty hours outside of the classroom per week.
It is a lot of work, but when you see a kid who has struggled for a while get the material, you don’t regret a minute of it. One time, I had this kid who was behind in reading. I sat with him a few times during recess, and we worked on just slowing down and taking a breath. I think he had some anxiety, because it’s not that he couldn’t read. He hated to be called on in class, and that is where the difficulty showed. I worked outside of class on a few worksheets that he could complete at home. Part of them said to practice reading aloud when no one is around to get comfortable with the feeling and sound of it all. He wasn’t a perfect public speaker by the end of the year or anything like that, but I definitely saw an improvement.
My advice to future teachers is to take everything as it is. Every teacher has his strengths and weaknesses. You will find a grove and then stick to it. I recommend speaking to other teachers in the school to get an idea of what kids might be a challenge. It is helpful to have a support system. My first year here I was lucky enough to make quick friends with a couple of teachers in my hallway. You will have days that sometimes wear you out emotionally, and physically, so it helps to walk down the hall and know that there are people who understand what you are going through.
Miss Olive is a retired fifth grade teacher from Duncansville, Pennsylvania that spends her retirement teaching part-time at not one, but two, different schools teaching. She rates her overall teaching experience as a 10.
I taught full-time for thirty six years, and now I have been working part-time for two years. I’m already retired but I am still teaching. This author once said this to me while signing her book, “Teach until you don’t have the chill anymore.” As in you get excited, and you get chills when you are excited. So, when I don’t have the chill, I will stop.
I consult the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science at the Catholic elementary school. I do two hours a day, two days a week, so four hours total. At the local Montessori elementary school, I run their environmental science center for two days. Since it’s cold right now, I am doing zoology with the 10-12s. They don’t go by grade up there. They go by age. That’s what I’m doing! I know I’m nuts. I am retired and I’m still so busy teaching. I also do Mary Kay Cosmetics, and I teach skincare. So now I am teaching adults how to take care of their skin.
My first few years, I taught in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nothing too exciting happened. I was still getting my feet wet. After that, my husband and I moved to Dayton, Ohio, and I taught in the ghetto. This was in the seventies, and I was one of six white teachers in the school. Dayton, Ohio in the seventies was very segregated.
There was a black side of town, and a white side of town. The black side of town was on the west side and the white side of town was on the east side. This was when they began “busing” teachers from east to west and vice versa, but they didn’t actually bus us. That was the term for it, but we drove ourselves into the other side of town to go to school. So I was part of the transition of integrating schools. That was really important.
They bused white teachers into the black side and black teachers into the white side. My first year there, there were maybe 35 teachers—of which only 6 were white. We weren’t liked. I mean… we were white and they didn’t want us in there. It was sad. I cried everyday. The parents didn’t want to accept me either. This was back in the seventies when there was still segregation. I sound prejudiced, but I am not at all. They just didn’t want us in there. That is how it was back then. At the white schools, they did the opposite. They put black teachers in white schools trying to integrate because it just wasn’t equal.
The parents didn’t like me at first, and then one day I got invited to a baby shower. Okay? So that was like the beginning. So I think they thought, “She’ll never come. So little Kathy went to the baby shower. Then we had to do home visits, because back then you had to do a home visit for every student, and when I walked in they offered me marijuana. Yeah. So I reported it, and the kid got taken out of the house and everything. They really thought we wouldn’t do anything, so they were angry with me. But then as they started to see that I was a real person, we became friends.
When they started to see that I was a real person, and that I liked the kids, things started to get better at work. I am telling you the truth when I say that I didn’t even see the color. And when they started realizing that I didn’t pay attention to the color of anyone’s skin we got along so well. My husband and I started getting together with parents after school or on the weekends. We went to their parties at night. We got invited to peoples’ houses for dinner. They brought food to the hospital when I had a baby. We became good friends. It was so nice. I learned a lot about how prejudice works. You know? It doesn’t have to be like that. I think it is mostly what people put in their heads.
I did all kinds of things with the kids too. Most of my paycheck went to them, and the other half to him [motioning to husband in other room] so that he could go to school. My third year there, I made sixty bunny costumes because I wanted them all to be bunnies in the school play. Sixty!! Ask him [husband in other room] it was so much fun though because nobody had ever made them costumes before. It was totally worth it when I saw them all lined up together with their little costumes on. It was so cute. You know? I couldn’t’ do any of it now because I’m too tired.
I had a little boy come up to me one day, crying, and I will never forget what he said to me. It made me a better teacher. He said to me, “My Mother said you’re white.” And I said, “I am.” And he said, “Nooo! You can’t be whiteeee!” He put his arm next to mine. He said, “You is white!” That is exactly how he said it. I said, “I am! What’s wrong with me being white?” He said, “White people aren’t nice and I don’t know if I can like you anymore.” I always say you are part of everybody that you meet. When you get to heaven, you are not yourself, you are part of everybody that you meet. So, we have to take care of each other.
When I left years later, that boy gave me a little green stone. He called it my lucky stone. I kept the lucky stone. I lost it about three years ago. I had it all of those years. So, wait this is even better. Wait I am going to cry. When I left the local Catholic school two years ago, I got a box from my fifth grade class. It was a little red box that looked like a jewelry box. I had told the kids how I met this boy and how he influenced me to be the teacher I am today. So I open up the red box, and there was a stone. She said to me, “I know you lost your stone so I gave you another stone.” That was like the best gift. I’m not kidding [crying]. It meant the world to me.
The second year, all of the white teachers left except for me. I taught there for six years. The only reason that I stayed as long as I did was because I had a husband in college there and I had to pay for it, so I would cry every day but I would stay. I didn’t leave until I had children, and then he graduated, and we moved back to Pennsylvania. I am so glad that I stayed because, in the end, we made such great relationships. We learned from each other. There was a whole new language that I had to learn. You would ask a student if his mother was home, and the kid would say, “My mother be home.” I had to clarify things all of the time.
“So is your Mother home right now?”
“My mother be home.”
I couldn’t tell if he was saying she will be home, or if she was home now. That kind of stuff created a language barrier, so the school taught us on weekends. We went to school on Saturdays to learn how to communicate well with our students. For example, you couldn’t even say, “Look at me” if the child wasn’t looking you in the eye while you were talking. If you said, “Look at me” to black children they were disgraced, because whenever the parents yelled at them, they put their heads down. You had to learn all of that. There was so much to learn so that we could help them to learn.
It was wonderful though, because we did learn. At that time, they were also teaching different kinds of symbols. In the seventies, they had all of these strange alphabets and none of it worked. It was a sign of the times. I learned another one where you had to read everything you said in the lesson out of a book, and then snap your hands for them to respond. Yeah. I have been through so much.
What I am learning now is that not much is new. Everything circles back around. Like, we had portfolios and then they are called contracts and, if you live long enough you learn you realize that there’s not too much that is new. Teachers come out with new strategies to try and you think, “Oh! This must be new, but it isn’t.”
One of the cool things that happened while I was teaching at Dayton was that the parents would bring perogies into school all of the time. It surprised me, because at first you’d think that’s great and the parents really cared and were really involved in their kids’ lives. It wasn’t like that at all. Parents used their money for drugs or alcohol. That is the kind of life they lived. Their kids came into class with rat bites on their feet! I mean, how are you supposed to teach somebody to read when the kid comes in with rat bites?
They were poor, and they were poor. Now-a-days, people are getting, you know, lots of food stamps, and lots of nice housing, and all of that kind of stuff. They didn’t have that back then. It was not that far away in time, but it was bad! They didn’t have those resources available to help them. They were poor, period, and they didn’t have food. We fed them at school because, if we didn’t then they wouldn’t eat.
While I was still teaching in Dayton, a lot of crazy stuff went on. Every year, we gave Easter candy for the children to sell. The way we did it is the parents had to sign a form saying they were financially responsible before we handed out the candy for them to sell. This one girl, I will call her Susie, wanted to sell candy. So her Mom came in and signed the form. She signed it and everything.
Well, Easter came and went, and Susie’s mom never paid for the candy that we gave her. I sent a note home with Susie one day, and her Mom came to school the next day with a gun to kill me. This was after school ended, so nobody was there. We had cameras, though, and I had a button underneath of my desk. I pushed the button, and everybody came running in and all of this stuff. Susie looked at her Mom and said, “Mom, you know you drank the money.” The mother was really mad. They called Dad, and he ended up getting her out. The next year, she killed her husband. She was sick, okay? It was more common that the kids were neglected.
A lot of the parents were angry, but this lady was sick. Susie was twelve years old and she was held back in third grade again and again because she was failing. Her mother had her out prostituting at night. She was prostituting her own daughter. That wasn’t common; but the drinking, and the ignoring of their kids, was very common. It wasn’t race, or stupidity, that caused it. It was poverty.
I am sure there were some great mothers, but what were they going to do? A lot of them worked full-time, and if they had to choose between feeding their children and cleaning their house, they are going to feed their kids. We did things to help out. We brought the parents in, and we trained them as aids. Every classroom had two aids. We gave them an education. We sent them to school, and they got an associate degree. So that was art of the program, you got associate degrees for the parents. You were trying to make the household stronger for the kids. That’s what it’s all about.
I had a little boy that year who hung his dead dog in the cemetery. The humane society called me and not his parents because there was nobody really to call, and there he was hanging his dog because his Dad likes dogs and he was trying to send his dog to him. Another boy used to steal flowers on the way to school, and there he was bringing me flowers out of peoples’ yards. Another one stole his mother’s pots and plans and wrapped them up for me as a Christmas present. There were lots of cute things, but most of it was tough stuff.
I get depressed sometimes because I don’t think people give kids enough credit. I think they are a lot smarter than everybody is making them out to be. And, I think that if you keep telling them what they do wrong, they are just going to give up. You know, like, reading in the paper that Japan is doing better. So what? A teacher has to look at the kids’ weaknesses AND look at the kids’ strengths.
It’s so important to really let kids know that they have strengths and then highlight them. After that is done, then you can figure out a plan to get those weaknesses up. But don’t just say, “Oh you can’t read bla bla bla,” and then hound them for not being about to read. Find that strength that makes them glow, tell them about it, and then work on that other part. They all have strengths. Everybody has at least one strength. Whether it’s art, or music, or math, or science. It could be something as simple as making cards really well. Highlight what they do best, and let them know about it. Let them feel good.
Teaching in the ghetto, I was surprised by how much kids were ignored. Now, I am teaching in an affluent environment, and I am surprised by how often kids are ignored. If I could write a book, I would write that kids are ignored. But they are ignored in a different way. Those kids I taught in Dayton were totally ignored. We had to feed them, dress them, and clean them. We had to do all kinds of things. These kids who grow up wealthy go home, and then they get shipped here, and they get shipped there.
They don’t go hungry, but they are ignored and they can feel it. One of the things I ask my kids is, “If you could have anything in the world, what would you get? A few years ago, a boy in my class said to me, “More time.” That is wrong for a fifth grader to want more time. So, the kids are still ignored. They are still hungry for parents just to be there.
I think it is very possible for both parents to work. I worked when my own children got older, like in third grade. BUT, when I came home, they were mine and I spent all of my time with them. I didn’t exercise. This sounds bad, but I didn’t exercise. I didn’t play tennis. I didn’t go out to drink at the bar. I did them from morning to night. My husband helped. On the weekends we took them for walks. We didn’t ship them off. We gave them music lessons and stuff, but we didn’t ship them off. We didn’t go on vacation with each other for years. We paid attention to them. I don’t think working is the problem. I think it’s the narcissism that people have. They worry about themselves.
My favorite part of teaching is seeing the light bulb go off in their heads. Whenever they go, “Oh! Is that what this means?!” I had it happen earlier today. This one little girl went, “Oh my goodness! I am so excited!” She figured it out and was so excited about it. Those are my favorite moments, and that is why I am still doing it. I like seeing that light bulb and knowing that they are putting it together.
I hope I have made differences in a lot of my students’ lives. I had a student in fifth grade who is now forty-some years old, and she just called me today because she had to have surgery. Her mother died the year that I had her in class, so she doesn’t have a Mother and she has kept in touch with me ever since. This girl has called me whenever something great happens, or every time she needs someone to talk to. Today, she found out she had cervical cancer, so she called me. Whenever they know, I am there if you need me. No matter what. If they feel comfortable enough with that, it means a lot to me. I have had lots of cases like that. You influence them by being a role model and letting them know that you are there. Don’t nag them.
I have had a lot of surprising things happen, and I mean, a lot. I have had some surprises. I was Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year one time. I was made the Diocese Teacher of the Year. I was made Wally 109 Teacher of the Year. Those were all surprised because they are all nominated by kids. A surprise for me now is whenever I have a Montessori degree that I got forty years ago that I am able to use now, who knew that I would use it? They didn’t have anybody in this area that had one. When I called to sub, they were like, “Oh my gosh! Come up and see us!”
What surprises me is the threads. There are threads throughout… You really never know what is going to happen. You don’t know who you are influencing at all. You know? Like, somebody will come up to you and say… one girl said, she lived by it, “Sex is a glue in your marriage but it’s not the foundation. Trust and hope and love are the foundation.” She said, “I lived by it.” I remember that in my head, all the time. I thought, “Oh, Dear God, I wonder what else I have said?” Maybe it was taking the wrong way. I am sure I hurt people’s feelings and didn’t mean to.
A couple of people left the school because of me. I would go and tell the parents that they needed help, and they did need help! I am not a doctor so I can’t help the. They need help. Period. They get mad but I am like I can’t help it I can’t do it because I don’t have the training. Then they would get all mad and go to the principal. You know. Whatever. You have to remember when you are a teacher that you are a teacher. You are not the counselor, and you’re not he psychologist. There are certain things that you can’t do. So you need to make sure that you be professional, you make the parents realize you are a professional in education, but tell them when you can’t help them. Don’t try to do it. I have learned that over the years you can’t do it. You need to call for outside help..
I hate grades. Isn’t that so weird? I hate grades. I don’t mind assessing, like I like to see if they are growing and then study them. If you think of assessment that way, like what do I need to do to make them grow from here? But when you have to grade… like, you have a little science kid who is so able to think scientifically but can’t get it done on paper. Then you have to give them a grade because he has a disability. And getting it done on paper, you know, over the years I would just do it the other way. I used the iPad, or I tested them verbally. But that’s not fair to them if they can’t write it, but I try all different ways tor them to do work. I hate grades. I hate grades.
Working with special needs children is hard, but my grandson now is a special needs child. He has part of his brain missing. So he can’t walk without help. And he has a lot of emotional problems and stuff. We thought he wouldn’t be able to think or whatever but he is doing great. You just have to work with them. He has all of these people helping them. But, I have always liked the younger. I have always said this, the smart kids, the kids that have the 130 IQ will learn in spite of you. You can mess up and they will get it, but the slow ones, you need to find out how their brain’s wired, and then go for it.
I have always liked the underdog. They navigate to me, I think. I know when I can’t do anything too. Like, I know when to say, “They need a special ed teacher. We can’t help them here.” Because I wouldn’t know what else to do, but as far as treating them as a person. I don’t know where people got the idea that God made certain IQs normal. Where did they decide what God thinks? Normal might be something else to Him. I just don’t see them as a problem. I can’t imagine very saying, “I don’t want him in my class. I don’t want him to pull everybody down.” I tae him where he is and we work with him. What else are you going to do? Do what you can do with them.
I had a lot of kids act out—not a lot—but in my early years I had more at out because I didn’t know how to really understand it. When you are really young, you take everything so personally. Then when you see them go through and you say, “Oh that’s no big deal. Look at so and so. He became a CEO and he used to do that kind of stuff.” I go by what Pope John Paul 2 said. He said that a good teacher observes all, ignores most, and changes a little. So when you do that, you don’t have as many people acting out because you are not picking on the picky little things.
What I try to do is try not to disrespect them. I try to get them to understand that the behavior is not appropriate. If it doesn’t work, I will just remove them from class. Then they have to go to somebody else. I can’t handle it all. You know? They will go to the principal or the counselor… I tell moms that it happens but I try not to call Moms to say, “You have to do this” because this is in my classroom. She can’t be there. I am not going to stress her out and say, “you need to get his kid under control.” The job is for me at that point to get them under control I my classroom. I don’t try to nag the parents too much, but I would call them if there was a problem.
Don’t let anybody destroy your hope future teachers. I think that every teacher goes in there because they want to help. And then, they get bombarded with all this negativity out there, the teachers aren’t doing it right and teachers don’t care and kids aren’t learning. Bla bla bla. Then they got downtrodden, just take your classroom. Close the door. Teach, and don’t let anybody take the hope away. If you love it, just ignore them. Like, don’t pay attention to it. If you want to teach, don’t lose hope. Just keep going.
Miss Petals rates her overall experience as a 10. She is a seventh grade teacher in Duncansville, Pennsylvania.
I have been teaching for twenty- three years, and I absolutely love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I will keep teaching until I retire. Even then, I’m not sure that I’ll stop.
Even though I have been doing it that many years, I always love learning new things and changing it up. I just took a class on differentiated instruction, and it actually gave a test of all of the different styles. You give it to the kids to find out what their modality is. I always do visual, because I am a visual learner. I can never say, “Oh, I got it down” if I just hear something. So for the longest time, I was making all of these lessons visual. I wish I would have known back then!
I don’t do the same thing every year. I change it up depending on the class and the kids that I have. Some of the things I will repeat, but I definitely don’t do the same thing every year. I did something different today, actually. I had them write down two problems onto a piece of paper that were similar to ones we had just done during class. They solved it and handed it into me before leaving. It was called an Exit Ticket.
They demonstrated whether or not they got what we had just learned, and then gave it to me as they walked out of class. The great thing with that is I instantaneously knew who got it and who didn’t get it. I had the same class in the afternoons for computers, so I put some of them on computers and brought others to the Smartboard at the front of the room and I got them caught up. I think you are always picking up new strategies on how to teach things. I caught myself today. I was trying to read those papers as they walked out. Usually I try to say, “Bye! Have a nice day!” or “Enjoy the game tonight!” It’s good to show that you see them as people. They care about what you think about them.
Students will come back and say, “You were always so nice!” I like hearing that. I will even run into ones that I taught, like, at a different schools years ago. One girl that I’d had in second grade became a teacher, and I ended up teaching at the same school with her. So it was just funny that she said to me, “I always enjoyed your class, and that’s why I wanted to be a teacher.” Those moments really make all of the work you put into teaching special. I also keep in touch with parents, and they will sometimes give me an update on how their child is doing.
Every kid is so different. They all have that special need in some way. Whether they need a little more time, or whether it’s something else. Over the years, I have had students that would probably have been classified as special education but for whatever reason they weren’t diagnosed. We usually will make the accommodations. You realize that even in teaching, teaching a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the right way or the only way. Every kid is different, and you have to give every kid what he needs.
People always talk about what’s fair. But it’s not always fair to talk about what’s fair, because it’s not as simple as you’d think. Fair isn’t always even, and even isn’t always fair. There is a balance of giving that kid what they need—whether it’s fewer problems, or whether it’s a little more time and a little more patience. Even conduct-wise, kids that are not behaving so well may be having a tough time outside of school. Instead of getting upset, maybe you want to be a little gentler with them. When you start getting an idea about what has been going on behind the scenes, it really opens your eyes. You have to give every kid in your class what you hope they need.
Similar to being a mother, my least favorite part of teaching is that you never quite feel like you are completely done. I think as a parent it’s the same way. I can never really say that I am totally caught up. I never really feel like I am totally where I want to be. There is always something more that I want to do. With some jobs, you can go home and say, “I am done until Monday.” It’s not like that for teachers. Even when I leave here today, I have papers that need checking. I always bring home with me a bag that is full of things that I should do, and sometimes I get to it and sometimes I don’t. That is the downside to teaching, but there are downsides to every job. If you like what you are doing during the day then it goes by fast, so I really can’t complain.
Ideally, if you could you would probably spend an hour or two a day outside of class each day on work. On weekends, you probably need another four hours. There are some times when I will work all day, like I will come home from Church on Sunday and I will work until Sunday night. A lot of the time, I come into the school on weekends. You are always fitting in time here and there. You are always multi-tasking. Whether I have a doctor’s appointment and I am checking papers, or I am waiting in the waiting room making phone calls. I probably make more work for myself than I need to as well.
I do a multimedia competition every year. You give them a topic and they will compete with one another. One year, it was Nobel Peace Prize winners. I had the whole class do it. They made a PowerPoint and they have to give an oral presentation. The PowerPoint served as their visual aid, and they made them to go with the presentation. It was kind of neat. In addition to making the PowerPoint, they had to work on their voices and find the timing of it. Then I graded them based on the presentation, but also the transitions, and how clear everything was. They had to have certain things in the PowerPoint. It helps them to develop that skill. I took the best ones in our class to a competition where they competed against the other schools. It was neat.
How I react to class disruptions depends on the kid. A good teacher trick to use that works really well is to act surprised by bad behavior. You start by setting a high standard; and then, you almost feign this surprise shock, like, “You know better than that!” I keep that high expectation for my classes, and I will act shocked if they misbehave. Like, “Oh my! You didn’t just do that.” They learn to think they are better than that behavior. It’s good for behavior, but it’s also good for the psyche. You are taking over for the parent in that area while they are in your class. I try to hold kids to the same standard that I would hold my own kids to—whether that is in achievement, conduct, or just being their best.
I recognize that everyone’s going to have a bad day. The idea is not to expect your kids to be perfect. I just think that expecting their best helps to bring out their best. You want the expectation to be high. In a way, you are setting the bar high enough that you know kids are going to come in who will be under it, but that’s okay. You keep setting that bar. It forces everyone to grow at least a little bit. If you set the bar lower, they will try less, so I always try to keep that standard high.
Probably the worst thing I have seen happened about ten years ago. My biggest concern has always been safety. I had this one boy who was a little rowdy. He came up to me during the fall, and acted like he cut his wrist on the desk. He had fake blood coming down along his arm. He must have brought it in from home or whatever. I took him out of the classroom and sent him straight to the office. Afterwards, I addressed him very clearly in the hall. I just said, “You won’t make it to Christmas if you ever act like that again.” When I need to be tough, I will be tough. The rest of the year, he behaved well.
I like to address behavior discipline one-on-one with the student out of respect for the child. I always tell the kids in the beginning of the year, “I give you respect and I expect respect back.” I am sure that I have blown it at times, but I always try to treat them with respect. Especially if I know I’m going to be yelling, I will take them in the hall. I don’t want to yell and humiliate them in front of the class, but there are times when I know that I’m going to yell, so I will pull them out in the hall and address it. There are also times when I will handle it right away in a matter of fact manner. Like, “That is not okay,” and then move on. There are a lot of things that you can do before it gets to that point of removing the child from class, like walking over to a kid. You can use proximity.
One thing I have always done that I learned in student teaching, Firm, Fair, and Friendly. In that order. That is one thing that has always stuck with me and I have always one. I have always tried to establish rules, kids will say that we know you’re tough but we know you’re nice. Really, when you establish that order, I come in with a kind of rules and my standards. To treat them all with respect, as far as grades go, as far as their achievement goes, I want to be fair to all kids. Then after you establish that, then you can go to that next level of friendly. I have always heard people say they don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. I have always tried to go that extra mile to notice their hair cut or ask how was their basketball game. I try to know them as people first.
Miss Rose is a computer teacher that rates her teaching experience as a 10.
I started teaching in 1979, so I have been a teacher for 36 years. Wow! I started teaching math at this school in 1987, and then I taught for seventeen years. I must be fifteen years right now for computers. I’ve stayed in this career for so long because I’ve loved it so much. I would go back and do the same thing again. I will keep teaching for, say, three to four more years. That would make me 65 or 66. It’s all based on retirement. The only thing I am excited about with leaving teaching is to visit my kids. But you have to have money. The fear is that you won’t have money to travel. One of my children is in D.C. and the other is in Denver, and I just love to go visit them. Hopefully I can afford to do that. If not, I will have to sub [laughing]. I hope not but I have loved teaching these 36 years a lot.
Kids are what I enjoy most about my job. It’s all about the kids. It includes more than just what you teach them. It brings so much joy, because they care about you. You care about them. It’s fun. I have had so many times when I am just going about my day, and you realize that a kid needs you. You have to look out for it no matter how busy you are.
I was here in this room one day at about five o’ clock, and a boy walked in. I had a meeting going on in here. He kind of, like, came through my door, and I’m wondering what he was doing here. I will call him Billy. I said, “Billy, what are you doing?” So then he just hung around. Then the meeting dispersed.
It was only he and myself in the room, and we were just talking. I asked him why he wasn’t home. He was like, “I am home.” I was like, “Are you kidding me right now?” I contacted a friend of mine. She is a policewoman. So I contacted her, and she came and then contacted the mother. Sure enough, that night he was put on suicide watch. Thank God he came to me. What if he hadn’t come to me? What if I had blown him off? Who knows what would have happened? That was a powerful experience for me. I have had a couple of things go on like that, but that is a big one.
My most memorable experience happened while I was teaching math. It was back when I had my son in my class. He was in the group, and all of his friends were in the group, so I was teaching all of these kids that I knew, including my own child. It was really special. That was my favorite year. I was using Rachel McGowen as a model when I went down to Connecticut to a conference. It was a gifted and talented institute, I went there and did a lot of math stuff, and then came back here and he was a fifth grader. That was when I got him in class. It was really an incredible year in teaching. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been great since then, but yeah, that year really jumps out at me.
Coming in fifth grade, they don’t like math. So my first unit in math was always geometry. My thinking was that if you take those kids coming over, and they already don’t like math, it probably means that they don’t like computation. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t like geometry. So we always started with geometry. That was my rule. I don’t think they do it anymore, but I’m telling you, it worked. You put them in geometry, and how many kids don’t like geometry? It’s just shapes. If you are not good in math, you might be good in geometry. Then those kids think they are good at math. Even if they might not be, but it builds from there.
Everything here is on a point system, but I give so many opportunities to get points. I chase them down, and I chase them down, and I chase them down to get their work done. I don’t take no for an answer. I get kids to do work. I mean… I get teachers who will literally come to me and ask for help with it. The art teacher came to me once as her last resort about this one girl. This was actually an interesting story. The girl was not doing any work in art class. I told her, “I will talk to her.” I let her listen to music while she does work in the computer room. This girl was very dark, and she listened to dark music.
She was in seventh grade, and she cut her wrists. I knew that she cut, but that wasn’t something we discussed. So she comes in, and I am like, “Can you just tell me why you are not doing the art work? This is driving the art teacher crazy. Why not humor her?” Her response was, “I’m flunking everything. What difference does it make?” I told her that it matters. I said, “Humor me. Just go to class and do something today. Don’t worry about tomorrow.” She ended up doing work the rest of the year.
A couple of days later, I saw her in the hallway. I could tell that she was down, and I asked her, “What’s going on?” I told her to come to my room so we could talk. She said to me, “I am sick and tired of being weird.” I said, “Well what do you think makes your weird?” It was heart breaking to listen to her. So we talked about stuff… she was seeing someone, like a therapist, but she was just so down. So then, the next day, I came in and said, “I need to talk to you. I thought about what makes you weird. One thing that makes you weird is that you don’t do work. That makes you weird around here. Everybody works.” She worked the rest of the year. She got all of her artwork done. That, for me, was rewarding.
What started this whole thing is a sad story. A boy in her class asked her, “What’s that on your arms?” and she said, “My cat scratched me.” He looked at her and said, “You know, and I know, that your cat didn’t scratch you. You know that I can tell you did that to yourself.” That is what initiated the whole conversation of her being weird. Heartbreaking. I think the whole process of me steering her onto doing her work helped her though. I reached her that day.
I had a student in fifth grade when I taught Math who was so mad at me because he was looking at a merchandise catalog during class, and I said to put the catalog away. He put it away. A few minutes later, he had it out again. So then, I took it from him and put it on my desk. He was so mad. He got up, threw a padlock at the wall, came back, and hit a kid. Then he hit the desk. Anyway, I never saw him again. He ended up being expelled from school. His crazy father murdered his step mom. It was a crazy scene. We had thought that his mother was the crazy one, but the dad was the one that murdered someone. He hung himself afterward but he didn’t die, and then he killed himself in jail. It just goes to show you, you never can tell what these kids are dealing with. Misbehavior in the classroom might be a cry for help.
This next story happened just a couple of years ago, and it is probably the funniest one that I have. The kid had absolutely no filter. He really had a defiant streak in him. This one day the kid was acting out, and for me, I thought it was hysterical. I was teaching in here, and I had this kid who did no work. He would swear all of the time. He was just a tough kid to get along with. He worked with an aid. I was showing him how to do something on the computer and, out of nowhere, he very loudly asked, “Would you slow that down?”
The whole room got quiet. It just struck me, immediately, that he is trying to follow me. This is a good thing. The other adult in the room was horrified that he spoke to a teacher like that, and took him right out. It actually made me happy. For me, that was a sign that he cares how fast I am going right now. I didn’t think he should get a detention over it, but the assistant thought differently. I thought it had to be addressed, but I would not cheat him out of the knowledge that he’d learn by staying in the classroom. The fact that he cared how fast I was going meant he wanted to learn what I was teaching.
I come to education with a different perspective because of how I grew up. I feel sorry for the kids that aren’t far along in school. I don’t mean intellectually, or even behaviorally. I just feel bad for the sad guy, not necessarily the bad guy, but the sad guy. I grew up in North Country near Boston. There was a lot of poverty. Some like poverty and do okay. There are smart kids in poverty, but some aren’t. I really feel for that little guy. That is kind of my strength, I would say, in teaching.
I love teaching both math and computers. I also got better at it the more that I taught. My brain worked better for math. There wasn’t such a thing as kids that weren’t excited about math, or that you couldn’t get excited about math. That Rachel McGowan style of teaching with manipulatives is how I got students interested in Math. She encourages a hands-on approach, like using pattern blocks instead of junk on an overhead. To teach fractions, she would use tangible things. She was a high-energy teacher, and very creative. I think tessellations came from her. I coached math team, and we did tessellations in there too. We used to do them on paper, but I figured out a way to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to do them, so now we do them on the computer too. I also teach them how to use Excel in computer class, so I haven’t given up math.
Manipulatives are great for teaching mathematics to kids. If you are teaching fractions, you can use pattern blocks. For example, if you are trying to teach three divided by one half what you would do is… if I had four hexagons so the kids has them in front of them, I could physically show them what that means. Fifth graders are ten years old, and the feeling in math is, “How do you divide and then get a bigger number? Are you kidding me?! How does that work?” I would hear those comments a lot, but manipulatives help. How many halves are there in four? There are eight. So you teach that, and then you teach the reciprocal instead of just writing it on the board. It gives them a way to contextualize what you’re saying.
One difference I have noticed about teaching computers that is great is that, when they come in here, they like what we are learning about. They like computers already, so I don’t have to make anybody like it because they already do. There is a lot of exploration that we do in here. We do flash animation, and why wouldn’t you like that? We even use Photoshop and iMovie. There are also much fewer kids in here. So you have twenty-five kids over there versus thirteen in here.
I have between thirteen and twenty students per class. For some reason, even when I have the classes that are closer to twenty, I just don’t see the classes as having as many kids. I don’t give homework in here. Fifth and sixth grade are graded with an S for satisfactory and graded with a U for unsatisfactory, so I don’t have to correct individual stuff. I grade seventh and eighth because they have to get a number, but now we are moving toward competency, so maybe we can get rid of this number thing. Measuring competency is frustrating. I don’t want to write the rubrics, and all of the craziness that goes with it. I hate grading, so if I can just say, “Yes, the kid knows how to type without looking. Done or not done.”
My least favorite part of teaching is such an easy answer. Easy, easy—it’s the correcting. I can’t stand assessment. There is absolutely zero part of it that I like—none of it. I would teach an extra two hours a day if I didn’t have to correct. For example, they are working on these projects right now. They make tessellations on their computer, and I can tell that it looks good. This one student in particular made this one. It’s fabulous. Now we have to go into her file and correct. We go through this rubric to grade it, but I can tell what I’m looking at. I don’t need the piece of paper to know if she has done a great job. I have seen her working on it. I see the end product. That whole assessment piece drives me nuts, and I think they make it bigger than what it is.
To new teachers, I would say, “Try to get into a school district that has the kids behave.” What happens very often, unfortunately, is that teachers say no to a school based on other factors. They might turn it down because they want to teach a different grade than the one the school is looking for, but if you go to a bad school, then you get the bad kids. Behavior should be the primary factor when selecting a school, because often times the teachers will send the bad kids to the new teachers. I think that is so wrong. You are experienced, so you should keep the bad and give them the good. I don’t mean good or bad kids, I just mean that discipline can make or break a new teacher.
I would advise them to go find a school that has a manageable system in place for discipline. It shouldn’t matter what the finance levels are. You know, of like, affluent or poor communities. What matters is if the discipline is under control. That is a question that I would ask when going in for an interview, “How is the discipline in this school?’ I think it breaks a lot of new teachers. They go in, and every day, they don’t teach. They are just disciplining all day long. It would drive me nuts. Future teachers should be sure to think about that before they make their final decision.
Dr. Sunshine is a sixth grade teacher that works in Bow, New Hampshire. She rates her teaching experience as a 9.
I have been a teacher since 1987, so I’ve been teaching for twenty-seven or twenty-eight years. I got a Doctorate in Education with an emphasis in Reading and Language Arts. I decided to teach elementary because, when I first got my teaching certificate decades ago, I was offered a fifth grade job. Then we moved up here, and I got offered a sixth grade job, and I have ended up staying in this position for twenty two years or something, and I just love it. Why go anywhere else? Now that I have been in middle school for so long, I don’t know how I could ever teach first grade. I think people that teach first grade are miracle workers. Seriously. I have the highest respect for them because that is probably the hardest job on the planet other than being a mother or a father. I plan to teach for three to five more years.
I think the thing that I enjoy most about teaching is that it is always changing. Nothing is the same, so I’m never bored. It’s very invigorating to be in a classroom. It is mentally challenging as well. I just love coming in, and seeing the kids doing this literature circle I have set up. It’s really rewarding to see kids do literature circle when I come into the room.
They get set up, and they are completely independent, so all I have to do is observe. I have also had some pretty cool experiences as a homeroom teacher. This one year, I had this very challenging homeroom, but with really wonderful kids. One day, these really good friends—a boy and girl—got into an argument. One girl penciled the other, and this was at the very end of the day, so I was thinking, “I am going to have to report this to the Administration and dah, dah, dah.” So I said to the kids, “Tomorrow we are going to have to talk about this, but right now we have to go home.”
They came in the next day, and I called them up to talk about what had happened. They responded with extreme maturity, “We both apologized to each other, and we were both wrong, and we are good to go.” Talk about kids showing maturity. If adults could do this, it would be a much better world. That is something that has stuck with me for quite some time.
Oh geez, I don’t know the last time I made a difference… I don’t know how to answer the question. I really don’t. It is such a blind sport to be an educator, because it’s not like you are working at a factory where you can say, “Okay. If you do this then that is going to happen. It is a lot of give and take and trying out new things to see what works.”
I am always surprised when kids are doing better or worse than you expect them to. This is particularly true if you want a kid to improve, and you are working, and working. Then, suddenly, something clicks. It never fails to surprise me. On the contrary, sometimes just this really smart kid is not making any progress. We are not getting anywhere. We just assume they are doing well and then, all of the sudden, we retest them and they have made no progress.
My least favorite part of teaching is probably dealing with parents when they are unrealistic about their children… particularly in the area of behavior. I have seen a few cases where the parents assume their child would never do something, and yet you see it happen during class. It is your word against theirs, and they can become unreasonable. I have to say it is pretty rare, but when that happens it sets you up for a pretty bad emotional reaction. There is really nothing you can do about it.
Kids have a lot of energy and it’s not uncommon for them to disrupt class. You queue them, and try to get them settle down. Then you queue them again, and then, if they don’t settle down, there starts to become consequences such as no recess or extra work. Sometimes the consequences are worse. There might be detention where they stay after school with me, or a school-wide detention, which is a little bit more serious.
These kids are impulsive. They are eleven years old in here. They are going to act out sometimes. Sometimes the kids have emotional issues. Sometimes you just need to settle down, and walk away, and give them time. But we have had kids that, for whatever reason, can’t control their behavior. They are usually the ones that have emotional issues that we know are documented. In these situations, it’s unrealistic to try to expect them to behave normally, so you just have to kind of back off. You have to leave them alone, unless they are going to hurt someone, but I have never even had that happen.
I have used a couple of programs where we give tests on the computer, so the kids take the test and it’s scored automatically. It’s like vocabulary-type responses, something you don’t want to spend a lot of time on in the classroom. Instead of spending twenty minutes to repeat a spelling test, I can have it over and done with in five minutes for every kid. I can also give four different kinds of tests at the same time. The way it works is that the tests are assigned to each of the kids.
When a student logs in, the test he or she is supposed to take is right there. It takes five minutes at the most, and then they’re done. So I can do twenty-five kids in five minutes, and I don’t waste all that class time. I also don’t have to spend all of that time grading. I can do other things, like create new projects for the next unit.
I would urge future teachers to learn how to go with the flow and get used to change. If you want things to always go your way, find another sport. If you have to do things a certain way because you have always done them that way, then forget teaching. If your heart is in it, then know the technology because the technology can be so helpful. It can be so wonderful when it works. When it fails, then that is a whole different story.
My research showed that despite a majority of claims about the stresses associated with education – including but not limited to low financial reimbursement, high pressure to raise test scores, and a substantial amount of time spent outside of work hours—teachers significantly rated their career satisfaction highly. The average score was 9.22 (SD= 0.878) when teachers were asked on a scale of 1 to 10 to rate their happiness with their career. The discrepancy between the quantitative data and the qualitative data struck me as odd. This curiosity led me to a substantial literature research in which I uncovered the text, Flourish by Martin Seligman. Dr. Seligman is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who pioneered the field of positive psychology, the goal of which being “to increase the amount of flourishing in your own life and on the planet” (Seligman 2011).
The reason that this philosophy is interesting within the context of my research is that positive psychology demonstrates why the interview stories didn’t match the high satisfaction scores. According to Seligman, one of the key components to a good life is meaning. Even when reflecting on the negative experiences, teachers rated their level of satisfaction in life as extremely high because their lives had a greater purpose. Educating children gave their lives meaning. Making the lives of those around us better, and not just our own, is the cornerstone to positive psychology; and it explains why my qualitative data did not match my quantitative data. Teachers were open to complaining about the myriad of challenges that a teacher faces today, and yet they unanimously stated they would not trade it for another career.
In Flourish, Seligman explains the need for positive psychology to be integrated into education: “I want a revolution world education. All young people need to learn workplace skills” (Seligman 2011). He explains that when asked, parents prioritize their children’s wellbeing as being of the utmost importance. This should guide the approach that we as educators take in approaching the school curriculum that we plan for our students. Dr. Seligman goes further to explain how this can be done. Strategies include having students take an online quiz to determine their top character strengths, and then incorporating those strengths into the classroom. This can be done in multiple ways. One example is choosing “A Character Strength of the Week,” and then having students nominate fellow classmates every Friday to see who has best demonstrated that strength during the week. It encourages positive thinking, social comrade, and self-esteem. These are essential valued traits within positive psychology.
Another example is using the topic of character strengths within the context of English class. This particular example would be used in a high school curriculum; however, the act of using character strengths in English class can be adapted at the elementary level. The teacher can take the Shakespeare play Hamlet and encourage students to pick out which character strengths each character is exhibiting. The lesson can then be directed into a writing assignment that the students complete outside of class. One more example that is more closely suited for the elementary aged student is the “What Went Well” exercise. Students write down three things that went well the night before [if done at the end of the day, it can be adapted to include what went well during the school day]. After each item on their list, students answer three questions: Why did this happen? What does this mean? And how can I make this happen again in the future?
Although an initial concern might be that diverting attention off of academic performance will disadvantage America’s youth, Seligman disagrees. Seligman wisely asserts, “I am all for success… but I want you to imagine that schools could, without compromising [success], teach both the skills of wellbeing and the skills of achievement” (Seligman 2011). In other words, the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, based upon the successful execution of positive education at Geelong Grammar School in Australia, positive education has the ability to raise attendance, lower drop-outs, and raise test scores. The explanation is simple. When students are taught the building blocks of resiliency, which in a nut shell is the ability to bounce back from adversity (Seligman 2011), they are more likely to develop the two academic skills that actually determine success: self-control and grit.
Dr. Angela Duckworth has experience teaching elementary aged children in addition to her subsequent Ph.D. in Psychology. She discovered that what determines students’ academic success is not found in a summative equation of intelligence added to the number of hours studied. She cites a multiplicative approach that is comprised of skill times effort. The crucial piece of this formula is that effort is very much dependent on the level of “grit” that a student has. Duckworth defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (Duckworth 2013). Another definition of hers included “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them” (Duckworth 2016). Duckworth elaborates, “the gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina” (Duckworth 2016).
A marathon is such a fitting analogy for Education. When one considers the way that education began in historic one-room schoolhouse rooms, crowding multiple grades into a single room warmed by a potbelly stove, education epitomizes the long-term progress required in a marathon. There may be a race. We may even be in competition with other countries, but short bursts of energy will not get us to the finish line.
There are many creative alternatives outside the realm of positive psychology with a parallel goal of improving student performance. One topic that is backed by statistical analysis is the effect that classroom environment has on student performance. In his book, Effective Educational Environments, Jean Stockard examines classroom environmental factors that promote student achievement. Stockard approaches these factors from social, psychological, and physical environments in the schools. Stockard also notes that, “Completion of certain levels of schooling, more than simply learning a given amount of material, facilitates entry into occupations” (Stockard 1992).
Stockard distinguishes between attainment and achievement, stating that attainment is a more accurate indicator of student success; however, due to the fact that many studies cited list achievement as the dependent variable, achievement is the term used throughout the book. In all of these cases, Stockard believes that environment does impact student performance: “[L]iterature consistently indicates that schools and classrooms that have strong academic norms, an orderly environment, supportive and effective leadership, and warm, supportive interpersonal relationships have higher achievement” (Stockard 1992).
Some of the classroom environment factors that influence student achievement are straightforward, but some of them are pretty unexpected. For example, Kachel believes that the low divorce rate in Amish households fosters academic success. Douglas Kachel examines the one-room schoolhouse environment within Amish cultures and notes that in spite of the lack of physical environmental accommodations such as electricity or running water, students meet the same test scores and sometimes outperform their peers at parochial and public schools (Kachel 1989). Kachel believes that the psychological safeguards associated with a stable home environment as well as the strong integration of the school with the community produces these results. The one area in which these schools fall behind is vocabulary (Kachel 1989). The term that Kachel uses to include the psychological strengths found in Amish communities is “social capital,” and the work of Coleman in 1988 echoes Kachel’s findings: social capital has a strong impact on education achievement.
Another less than straightforward approach to changing the classroom environment in order to improve student performance examined the “power” dynamic of classrooms. Similar to social capital, this was not a tangible change that the teacher could implement in the physical realm. It consisted of including students in the scientific inquiry process with the belief that instilling a sense of competency will affect students’ achievement positively. In the article, “Power in the Classroom: How the Classroom Environment Shapes Students’ Relationships With Each Other and With Concepts,” University of Washington professors Lindsay Cornelius and Leslie Herrenkohl call for a shift in the way that teachers communicate with their students. They fault the traditional model of class that involves teachers talking for the majority of class, and then only engaging students by asking them direct questions. They view an effective classroom environment as one that promotes students to “talk science” with the teacher and take on an active role in the process of scientific inquiry (Cornelius & Herrenkohl 2004).
Advancements in technology have taken us away from the traditional model in an interesting way. Virtual classrooms permit easy access to electronic copies of course materials, as well as provide a virtual hub for students to comment on class readings. In the article, “Designing Classrooms to Maximize Student Achievement,” University of Washington professor Sapna Cheryan and her colleagues reference the adaptation to learning this online forum provides: “As the use of virtual classroom environments continues to grow, care should be taken in how these spaces are designed to create a virtual classroom culture that is welcoming to all students” (Cheryan et. al 2014). Cheryan references the potential negative effects resulting from such an easily accessible and anonymous portal. It is therefore in the hands of the course facilitator to establish guidelines for acceptable posts, as well as respectful ways to respond to the posts of classmates.
In this article, Cheryan also speaks of the ways that physical classrooms (outside the realm of the web and online classrooms) affect student performance. She lists inadequate lighting, noise, low air quality, and deficient heating as legitimate concerns to a students’ ability to succeed in the classroom. When these symptoms occur, Cheryan claims they are directly related to worsened academic performance (Cheryan 2014). Cheryan also gives a voice to minorities by connecting the fact that the people most likely to suffer from these environmental handicaps are black students from poor neighborhoods. A failure to address the conditions in which students learn not only lowers grades, it holds racial biases in place. Cheryan also cites scientific studies that prove a classroom’s décor positively influences student learning (Cheryan et. al 2014).
Another component to classroom environment that impacts student performance is class size. One study conducted in Tennessee demonstrated that small class sizes are linked with achievement benefits for “all students in all schools” (Nye et. al 2000). This belief was not universally held until recently. In a study published in 1989, Dr. Hanushek argued that the effects of a small class size must be small due to the lack of substantial amount of statistical significant evidence available (Hanushek 1989); however, this preceded Nye’s study and numerous other sources echo the modern belief that small class size does positively impact student performance. A potential explanation for Hanushek’s perspective was the lack of knowledge available to him at the time. In 2016, the data speaks a different story. Small class size is good for student performance.
It is not surprising when one considers Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that some research articles choose to focus on creating classrooms that are safe. In “Safe Space: Student Perspectives on Classroom Environment,” Lynn C. Holley and Sue Steiner reference a study that examined 121 baccalaureate and masters students at a university to uncover that safe environments affected both “what and how much they learned” (Holley & Steiner 2005). An example of how classrooms might fall short that Holley and Steiner are concerned about is that, in an attempt to create a space that promotes honest dialogue, a teacher may fail to create a feeling of safety for all students in the classroom (Holley & Steiner 2005). For example, a teacher may open the class up to a dialogue about injustice that could leave one or more members of the class feeling left out or in the minority due to differing beliefs or backgrounds. They also stress the importance of educating teachers so that these mistakes do not occur.
Unfortunately, even topics as universally accepted as safety are not blanket statements that mean the same thing for every student. An interesting study that was conducted for the performance of music ensembles in schools explored the idea that not every student benefits from the same classroom environment. In regards to the concern of safety mentioned in Holley’s editorial, this article found that “some students were found to thrive academically in classrooms that were high in competition, order, structure and teacher control, while other students found such environments threatening” (Hamann et. al 1990). Hamann’s article is interesting because it demonstrates that even when one agrees about concerns that affect the classroom environment (which ultimately affects student performance) such as safety, there is not always a clear answer on how best to attain a classroom that exhibits these ideals. Even in Holley’s article, the ability to speak openly and honestly could be helping the students who do not feel “unsafe” in such an environment. It is therefore at the teacher’s discretion to prioritize classroom organization in such a way as to benefit the most people.
Arguments for the importance of classroom environment were not always a summary detailing ways to improve a teacher’s classroom. There were also articles that argued for the importance of classroom environment as being the penultimate determination of success. One such article, entitled “The Classroom Environment: First, Last and Always” goes so far as to say it is the first and last concern for pedagogical instruction. Specific examples the authors include are how class materials are organized, such as a supply of paper and markers in an activity area will encourage students to create and explore. Similarly, Trubowitz argues in A Handbook for Teaching in the Ghetto School that “the greatest deterrent to fights in the classroom is an atmosphere in which children… feel the security of clear expectation patterns [and] are exposed to a controlled set of stimuli” (Trubowitz 1968). Both of these authors cite the child’s surrounding environment has having the most important effect on class achievement and behavior.
Another article takes a more balanced approach to promoting classroom environment as a future predictor of success. In “The Relation of Kindergarten Classroom Environment to Teacher, Family, and School Characteristics and Child Outcomes,” Robert Pianta and his colleagues examine public schools for young children and uncover two factors to be explored. The first is the importance of early school years for later school outcomes, and the second examines the quality of preschool and early childhood settings. Although Pianta is in agreement that classrooms affect a students’ ability to learn, he fails to go so far as to say it is the “first and last” predictor of success.
Regardless of whether one believes that the classroom is the most important predictor of success that goes on in the classroom, the evidence provided in these articles shows that the classroom environment does have a significant impact on how students perform. Also, although factors are not always clear on how best to benefit the most students, there are many environment factors that are universal. Teachers are encouraged to implement as many of these as possible into their classrooms. Examples include good class organization, small class size, adequate lighting, little-to-no noise, good air quality, sufficient heating and air-conditioning, social capital, discussions that actively involve students, online environments that are respectful of all individuals, and—to the best of the teacher’s ability—a classroom environment that is considered a safe place that is conducive to learning by as many students as possible.
I believe that the fact teachers put so much into their jobs, coupled with the fact that they rate their job satisfaction so positively, indicates that teaching is not a broken system. Some of America’s low performance can be better understood by reading stories such as Miss Olive’s, in which children lack basic human needs such as food or fresh clothing. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a student cannot pay attention in class—let alone learn anything or retain information—if his basic needs are not being met. Speaking with these school heroes gave me hope that teachers are ready to keep rising to meet every new challenge that education will face in the future, for one simple reason. They are looking out for their students’ best interests.
Unfortunately stories like Miss Olive’s are extremely common. In A Handbook for Teaching in the Ghetto School, author Trubowitz writes, “Many children in ghetto elementary schools read below their grade level. One child rapidly shakes his leg as he attempts to read to his teacher. Another child laboriously finger-points his way through a few pages of a basal reader and then slams it shut in utter frustration” (Trubowitz 1968). Miss Olive encountered these maladaptive behaviors in the classroom, and expressed with frustration how difficult it is to focus on teaching when kids come in with rat bites on their feet. She tearfully expressed what Dr. Seligman writes about in Flourish, which is that the emotional wellbeing of students should not only be a teacher’s first concern but is paramount to the child’s ability to perform well in school.
Trubowitz pens a potential way to boost the confidence of children,
“One teacher descried her approach this way: I know that for many children school has been one big flop. I look for chances for children to contribute. If a child knows a song or a poem or a story, I let him present it. If a child just seems as though he has something to say, I let him say it. I try to make them feel good about themselves” (Trubowitz 1968).
This most clearly resembles the approach Seligman describes of identifying children’s “signature strengths,” and then encouraging them to build on those by having the class vote for one student every week who best demonstrated that week’s highlighted strength (Seligman 2011).
Another strategy that Trubowitz recommends that is not referenced by later authors like Seligman is the usage of fairytales in the curriculum. Trubowitz explains that many of these children are born into dark and unfair circumstances, and the central message in these stories of overcoming difficulty with dedication and forgiveness provides hope for these children (Trubowitz 1968). A specific example that Trubowitz provides is the story, “Boots and His Brothers,” which she mentioned is particularly satisfying for boys. This story portrays Boots as the underdog who is rejected by his brothers as well as his parents. He succeeds in overcoming many difficulties and is able to conquer all of the obstacles life provided him in the end (Trubowitz 1968). This strategy may not be universally accepted, and yet Trubowitz makes excellent points about how important stories of hope are for children born into bad circumstances. I would argue that these stories could also benefit children in wealthy school districts, because as we learned from Miss Olive, these students also suffer the emotional effects of abuse.
As the above-cited articles demonstrate, research studies confirm that classroom environment is a powerful tool in predicting student success. Although teachers may not always be able to fix all of the problems in a student’s life, providing a place of stability for students that is conducive to learning will benefit students greatly. I believe that the education reform that authors such as Seligman and Stockard call for would benefit from a dual approach. Teachers can make a huge difference in students’ academic performance by creating a classroom environment that is conducive to learning, as Stockard mentions, as well as helping to instill positive psychology’s resiliency skills in students through augmenting their curriculum with the examples that Seligman provides.
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