My first year teaching was wonderfully difficult. My mentor was pregnant and had her baby the first week of school; she took the rest of the year off. I was teaching some difficult students, traveling between classrooms, and coaching the varsity cheerleading squad, while also continuing to study for my master’s degree. I had a lot of interesting firsts, especially in my first year teaching at the high school, when I learned a lot about educating boys.
My first first happened on the first day of my first year teaching school. I felt prepared. I had lessons, I’d purchased many materials for my classroom, and I was ready to go. My first “class” of the day was actually a study hall that I had to supervise. I had read Harry Wong and had great education professors at the college I attended, so I knew I had to be prepared. I had assigned seats, rules, and a contract for students to sign, and I brought magazines, crossword puzzles, newspapers, etc. so that my students would have something to do during the first 80-minute period of the first day of school.
None of my education classes prepared me for what happened in the last five minutes of that first period of the first day. I was proud of myself for being so well-prepared and having such a great, cooperative group of kids. Then a student not really named Mark changed that. Suddenly, with five minutes left in the period, he got out of his seat, walked over to the emergency window, and jumped out. Fortunately, we were in the café on the first floor, but still—I did not know what to do. He disappeared. I turned to one of the girls in the study hall who happened to be one of the cheerleaders and asked her, “Did he really just jump out the window?”
She looked at me and said, “Yeah, obviously.”
I asked her, “What should I do?”
She told me, “Well, maybe call the office.”
And so I did. I called the office and explained the situation to the secretary. Well, not really explained, just said, “Ummm … I’m in the cafeteria for study hall, and a kid just jumped out the window.” She had just begun to ask who it was and where he went, etc., when Mark, my escapee, walked back in nonchalantly and sat in his seat. I hissed for him to come over to me, told the secretary he was back, and hung up the phone. I then asked him the worst question you can ever ask a kid, especially a senior in high school, “What are you doing?”
He said, “Nothing.”
I said, “Well, I don’t think that’s correct, because I just saw you jump out the window.”
He replied, “What are you talking about? I didn’t jump out the window. I was sitting here the whole time.” Fortunately the assistant principal walked in at that moment and dragged him to the office. But honestly, at that time I had no idea what to do next or what would even be an appropriate response.
Now, there are many other firsts I could share with you, but I don’t want to spend too much time reminiscing about my days in the classroom. My point is that, as you embark into the field of teaching, there is much, much more to it than, well, teaching. I was always happiest in the classroom with my students—sharing information, reading and writing together, helping one another learn. It’s important to share your expectations with kids, but also to let them know what they should expect from you. And always hold yourself to high standards.
I am not currently a teacher. I began working for aha! Process as a consultant about a year ago. However, looking back on the five years since I graduated from college is a lot like playing a game of connect the dots. Steve Jobs, in his 2005 Stanford commencement address, talks about connecting the dots in life:“You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, karma, destiny, whatever—because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”
I therefore urge you to remember that teaching is a journey. You don’t know where it will lead you or when. Don’t try to connect the dots too soon, but face the adversities and challenges head on, try your hardest, and look forward to the picture that will appear when you are finally able to connect all the dots.
About the author
Jennifer Ratka, Consultant
Jennifer brings a unique perspective to aha! Process, Inc. having taught both high school and college. She has an energetic approach to bringing theory and research to life in the classroom with a perspective on how to engage learners.