For most of my life, I have wanted to be a teacher. Two years ago when I made the official adult decision to pursue education as a career, I came across this picture from Humans of New York.
At the time, it epitomized one of the main reasons I was committing to teaching. Why would someone who had the brains and opportunities to go into many other worthy professions willingly choose a job with pubescent teenagers? A job that follows you home, that grossly underpays and is so exhaustingly demanding? And in English, one that requires you to mark paper after endless paper??
The simple answer is because despite some of those drawbacks, there are more reasons to love it. Because it combines most of my favorite things – people, leading, planning, English language and literature, surprise, learning. No class is the same, no day is the same. Lessons are as creative, engaging, and different as you make them.
But mainly, I choose teaching because of relationships – whanaungatanga, as it’s called in Aotearoa New Zealand. Teachers have the unique opportunity to connect with young people, to identify and bring out their strengths when perhaps no one else will. Dramatic and egocentric as they can sometimes be, teenagers are at the unique crossroad of coming into their own identity, and I have the privilege of meeting them there.
After two months of observations and a few one-off lessons, I returned from autumn holiday to a five week full-time placement student teaching at Lincoln High. Through all of February and March, I was stuck in this holding pattern of just wanting to get into it, but still feeling like I had no idea what the heck I should be doing. The feelings didn’t go away during the first week. I felt totally drained, lost, and was seriously questioning teaching in general. Georgia knew why.
“You just don’t like doing things you’re not good at. And you are inevitably not going to be amazing when you first start out. It’s okay, Jessica.”
Fortunately, I had Sha, known by the kids as Mrs. Litten. Bless her. My mentor teacher graciously handed her class reins over to me, but she patiently continued to walk alongside me, giving me a little structure for unit plans and sound advice for each lesson.
So we’re finishing up connections and moving on to close viewing. Freedom Writers for the Year 10s, Billy Elliot for the 101s, info lit research with the two classes of 201s, and critical essays with the 301s. I co-taught the senior classes and totally took over the juniors. Camera techniques taught, movie times scheduled, week one pretty much done. Got it. But…now what? We talked through plot and context; setting, characters and theme; and different ways to introduce those to the kids.
Somewhere in week two, things just started clicking. I nailed in those last few names and started getting to know each of the students as individuals. Mason is articulate and onto it; Chelsea doesn’t talk, but she’s soaking everything up; Ben looks as though I’m staring into his soul and gets all tongue tied every time he asks for one-on-one help, but he does get there.
As I took the lead role, my confidence and assertiveness increased too.
“Will you please move to the table in the back?” is very different from, “Alex,” gesturing from him to the desk, “I have already warned you. Move to the table at the back now. Thank you.” They will inevitably fight you, but you stick to your guns, and they do eventually do as you ask.
I quickly caught on to a few other key phrases and strategies.
“Okay, eyes and ears up at the front.”
The power of the pause. “I will wait.”
Limited choices. “10SM, you can buckle down now and begin reading, or we can stay in and do it at lunch.”
“Angus, you just earned a warning.”
“101, that’s two minutes of your time at interval!” Awww, Miss, come on! “Shall we make it three?”
It’s not about a big stick or rigidly strict behavior management, but it’s hard to get to the real learning if an environment of respect and calm hasn’t been established.
I laugh and smile ,and they make incessant fun of me saying “y’all.” I probably let them banter too much, but English is one class where more talking is usually a good thing. We had a hilarious debate about whether Billy Elliot is gay (oh my stars, NO, people, he just doesn’t have homophobia like everyone else in County Durham!) Somewhere around week 3, we all started settling in. They knew me more and appreciated the collaborative activities I planned. And Georgia was right – like anything, the more I taught, the better I became. There was give and take, plenty of mess ups, but also small moments of gratification. Halfway through I asked them to fill out reflection slips.
What has surprised you?
How fun this class can be
That Ms. Compton is a real good teacher and answers my questions real well so that I understand
That we talk to each other
I got back into reading
Teaching has been good
I’m sure there were sassy answers too, but, as a words of affirmation kind of gal, those responses made my heart melt a little bit. Even if “real” isn’t quite grammatically correct.
My five weeks of placement were the fastest weeks in New Zealand. My days were full and challenging in a new kind of way. After so many years talking about it, I was finally teaching. I know five weeks is nothing in comparison to decades of teaching, but it was a good taste, and it affirmed that, for now at least, I’m doing what I should be.
I’m back to uni writing papers now, and though the extra time to sleep in or go to the gym when I please is nice, I’d rather be back with the kids. I have only had five weeks, after all. I am improving, but there is so much to keep working on. Placement 2 at a new school will be coming up next semester, but I hate that I have to start over again, just when things were really rolling. Alas, as King Solomon and The Byrds say, to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Lincoln was a fantastic first teaching experience, and I look forward to whatever lays ahead.
Sha covertly passed farewell cards through each of the classes (201s are in the works) and students presented them on my last day. They become more articulate with age, but I’m grateful for them all. Here are a notes:
Gonna miss you miss. Thanx for teaching us xoxo
Thank you for teaching us, you have taught me a lot!
Thank you for teaching us miss straight outta Compton
Thank you for teaching our class; you’ve done a great job!
Thanks for everything and for teaching us new techniques, etc. Hope y’all have a good future
Ha, they don’t quite get that “y’all” is plural.
You are an amazing teacher! You are such a sweet and kind person!
Thank you so much Ms. Compton. You have been so amazing and helpful. I honestly don’t think English would have been as fun without out. We will miss you.
You’re the best student English teacher I’ve had ever!!! You’ll make a great teacher when you finish. We’ve loved having you. Take care, we’ll miss you.
Thank you so much, Ms. Compton! You are honestly amazing – the best student teacher, I swear. Best of luck with the future. Your students will be lucky to have you.
Thank you for all your help in English, you’ve been an awesome and fun teacher! We’re going to miss you so much! Good luck for the future!