Most of my college prep for teaching was student centered. It revolved around how the brain learns, child development, and best teaching practices. That’s good.
But there is another side to teaching beyond the students. It’s a darker underbelly that often gets left out of bestselling books and Hollywood movies.
Here are 16 things I wish my education professors would’ve taught me in college:
1. Day to day teaching is a grind
The physical, mental, and emotional drain of teaching is something few of us could have expected. Teaching is so much harder than it looks. If you’ve never cried yourself to sleep, just wait.
2. Some will hate you
You will most likely be some student’s most hated teacher—for reasons you can’t even understand. There will be parents who seem to hate everything you do. I’ll never forget the parent who called me a “pompous ass” in front of my first grade class. Keep working on that thick skin.
3. You will develop a caffeine addiction
I didn’t start drinking coffee until my first year of teaching. I can’t think of a single teacher I know who doesn’t rely on coffee, tea, or soda to get through the day. Maybe they are out there. Somewhere.
4. Boredom and repetition
Much of teaching is spent planning lessons, making copies, giving quizzes, grading students’ papers, attending meetings, and drinking coffee. It can get old quickly. Keep the important through-line at the front of your mind.
5. You need to find a mentor
I was fortunate enough to have a mentor teacher assigned to me for my first year. She was fantastic! I’m thankful for everything I learned from her. I only wish she could have been my mentor for a few more years. If your district doesn’t do mentoring, then find one on your own. You need someone wiser than you to talk to and listen to.
6. Teaching will take up every free moment if you let it
Truly, a teacher’s work is never done. If you don’t learn to set limits and boundaries you will find yourself writing lessons plans while you are shaving and falling asleep with student quizzes as a pillow. Be okay with it never being finished.
7. Kids will break your heart
There’s nothing you can do about it. If you stay in teaching long enough, your heart will be in pieces over a student at some time. You can do everything in your power, but you have to realize that you can’t save them all.
8. Every day won’t be life-changing
You will feel like a complete and utter failure some days. Everyone failed the test, no one is paying attention to your amazing lesson, and you sliced off the bottom of your tie in the paper cutter. It’s a skill to learn to take those days in stride.
9. How to deal with negative colleagues
Sometimes students aren’t the most difficult people at school. It’s challenging to work on a team with a negative person. Negativity is toxic. The hardest thing can be figuring out how to work with a negative person without letting them get to you.
10. Administrators are crazy
You are focused on your classes. Administrators are focused on that too plus a million other things in the school and in the district. They will do things that you don’t like or you don’t understand. But they almost always have more information than you do. Give them the benefit of the doubt and talk to them directly.
11. Parents are crazy
A parent’s number one priority at school is their child. They mostly don’t care that you have 20 other kids to worry about. And rightfully so. This will make them do things that you don’t like or you don’t understand. Again, you probably don’t have all the information about their child. Give them the benefit of the doubt and talk to them directly.
12. Kids are crazy
Kids are crazy because they’re, well, kids. It’s what they do. They will be loud after you’ve asked them 17 times to be quiet. They will keep moldy food in their locker because they’re saving it for later. They will hurl hunks of wet toilet paper on the bathroom wall just to see what it looks like. Be prepared for anything.
13. You need a clear plan for student behavior
I remember trying to wing it with student behavior for my first two months of teaching. My class ate my lunch and asked for dessert. Have a consistent strategy for misbehavior. Trying to come up with it on the spot while a kid is gluing a book shut is not going to cut it for long.
14. Teaching is an impossible job
Don’t be too hard on yourself. There is simply no way you are going to educate 100% of your students 100% of the time to 100% mastery. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do the best we can each day with what we have.
15. Teaching is more rewarding than you ever thought
You will make a difference. What kind of difference you’ll make is your choice.
You will definitely be remembered. How you’ll be remembered is up to you.
16. Laugh as much as possible
Laugh at the huge wad of wet toilet paper on the bathroom wall. Laugh at slicing off the bottom of your tie in the paper cutter. Laugh at life, laugh with your class, and definitely laugh at yourself. I’m convinced it’s one of the keys to making it.
What do you wish you would’ve learned in college?