Of course, one of the best ways to learn is to teach. i have definitely learned a crap ton of stuff from my five months of teaching and i still have more than half a year left. so, as an almost-half-way progress marker, here’s a few of the humdinger lessons i’ve absorbed so far:
1. I’m not ready to have kids.
i’m pretty young but every once in a while i’ve started to get those random biological urges people warned me about when i said i never wanted to have kids. i’ll be making a salad when all of a sudden babies start cooing in the background. i find myself having daydreams where i’m standing in a grassy field, rubbing my round belly. i think it’s pretty badass that i was born with the super power to make humans but these are scary urges to admit to at this point in my unorganized, unplanned life. luckily, i have a really reliable and healthy form of birth control. it’s called teaching.
everyday i get a little taste of what happens to babies when they reach puberty. if i take it as a personal insult when one of my pouting students says my class is boring after i spent three hours prepping an awesome game of parts-of-speech-meet-truth-or-dare that he never got to play because he refused to finish his work, i can’t imagine how it would feel to have a product of my own womb dish out a significantly more scathing insult.
my rubber emotional force-field has not yet been full formed.
give me at least a few more decades on that one.
2. Time management
you may think you can whip up a genius lesson plan in 30 minutes the way you could whip out a college essay in the same amount of time at 3 a.m. on a tuesday night, but it takes an unbelievably long time to design, print, and cut-out a set of 80+ homemade flashcards. even when you’re bone-dry sober in a pencil skirt, hopped up on b-vitamins, and equipped with a large pair of industrial scissors.
once a very successful and diehard procrastinator, i now begrudgingly accept the value of time management. (but only when i have to)
3. The hustle
for all those other times.
4. My cell phone sucks the life out of me.
i really, really, really love my smart phone. i used to take it to class with me. i started by using it as a clock, because i couldn’t always hear the bell ring and because sometimes it just didn’t ring at all. then, during that one class when the students were always late, i started fiddling with it while i waited for them to show. but then, that one time, i had to just finish that one text message or that one play on wordswithfriends. but then i had to check the currency exchange while they were finishing their short essays. and then i had to just open my email really quickly while they were doing a partner exercise. and i started to get this twitch where i was annoyed every time i had to put down my phone to, ya know, do my job.
it doesn’t help that there seems to be no barriers or etiquette about cell phone use in korea. people text in yoga class. they blab constantly on the subway, in the middle of family meals, and in business meetings and job interviews. when i first took away a student’s cell phone in class, there was an audible gasp of disbelief. i got the feeling it didn’t happen very often.
so i started wearing a watch to work. yes! a wrist watch! a single function device!
i figured it would make me more focused on class but i had no idea it would have such a dramatic positive effect on my energy levels. i was dancing, goofing off with my students, and the time was flying by.
next week, i plan to implement a new rule that i’m sure my students will just love. it’s called the cellphone bucket. they will have to ditch their cellphones at the door, in a bucket, and then pick them up at the end of class.
the compromise is this: the teacher has to do it too.
5. You get what you give. but only sometimes.
if you don’t engage, neither will they. you are totally in charge of setting the mood for the class- and your life and stuff too. if you’re feeling down and hoping your students will pick you up from your slump, keep hoping. sometimes life gives you little bits of goodness when you need it most, but the same balancing act doesn’t happen in a classroom. if you show up bummed out and not on your game, you will be trampled.
on the other hand, if you prepare for your classes, if you defy all of human instinct and temptation by leaving your crap at the door and going into class with a deep breath and a lot of energy and a devotion to always be enthusiastic regardless of what’s on the agenda, i am insanely jealous of you. the students will undoubtedly respond and your energy will be multiplied.
but only sometimes.*
6. It does matter what they think of you.
teaching isn’t about you but it does matter what your students think of you. do you remember that one teacher you thought was really lame and uninteresting but you learned a lot from his/her class?
kids are motivated by a number of things, some of them more noble than others. if you want them to learn, they have to pay attention. if you want them to pay attention, you have to be impressive.
you don’t actually have to be impressive to be impressive. you just have to know how to put on an air of impressiveness, aka: you have to know how to b.s. your way into impressiveness. this concept is best explained in this great blog i came across lately:
7. The best education is life experience.
there are certain things i just can’t explain to my students. i can’t explain capital letters (entirely). i can’t explain that their culture, while it may or may not be the cause, is not a justification for their obsession with suicide and unhealthy body image. if they are good students and listen well, life and time will blow the lid off these secrets for each and every one of them.
nobody could have taught me to be a teacher. maybe it would have been a lot more comforting to go into this with the training and instructions i thought i would be getting, but no education could have prepared me for certain situations i face everyday that technically make me a teacher. i just had to stumble around and figure it out on my own, even though that really sucked sometimes and i still gripe about it. only experience will show you what you really need to learn and do to be better at something. but before you can even see it, you have to be willing to stumble because it’s the stumbling that shows you what you don’t know and only then can you go after the right knowledge you need to rule.
i find that an imbalance between academics and life experiences can leave you with a bunch of junk in your head that weighs you down when it comes to go time.
*therefore, it’s a better idea to exert your efforts of good doing for the purely selfish satisfaction of your personal dignity than for the altruistic advancement of your students’ educations alone.