So, you want to go into teaching? Whether it’s at an elementary school, high school, or within higher education, teaching careers are sought out for so many reasons. Unlike many, I didn’t always plan to be a teacher. It wasn’t until midway through college when I envisioned sharing my passions and imparting my wisdom on the next generation and helping them prepare them for life beyond college. So, I decided that the classroom was where I wanted to spend my career.
What I didn’t anticipate was the plethora of unexpected experiences and challenges that come with being a teacher. Looking back, I was grossly naive about what makes being a teacher so much more than just teaching. Here are just a few things I wish I had known about before the start of my teaching journey.
As much as you know your subject matter, it’s unadvised (and likely frowned upon) to “wing it” in the classroom. Teaching requires a massive amount of planning. Many teachers are required to submit their lesson plans in advance for approval, and must continually adapt and update regularly.
In today’s world of active learning, teachers also need to get creative. Let’s face it, students—whether they’re 8 or 18—only have a limited attention span, which continually challenges teachers to find new ways to keep the classroom engaging. Whether that means developing interactive lessons and activities or creating PowerPoint presentations for lectures, the time you’ll need for planning adds up.
In addition to course prep, there’s a great deal of administrative work that goes into teaching. Think about it: for every fantastic assignment you create, hours of grading come along with it. Similarly, teachers often are required to attend in-service training, meetings, field trips, conferences, and professional development seminars.
Much of my daily routine involves answering emails, analyzing data, and meeting with students one-on-one. The notion of teaching being all about the classroom is a farce—teachers do so much more.
You probably remember a teacher who made an impact on your schooling experience. Why was that? Did they go out of his way to help you? Did they genuinely care about your success? Teaching allows you the opportunity to shape an individual for the better. Students young and old have lives outside the classroom—hardships, traumas, emotional needs, and other unique circumstances—which affect not only their learning but their self-image and approach to the world.
I was surprised by how much I would have to navigate and consider students’ personal lives as a teacher. If you can handle the challenge, you’re more likely to have a lengthy and successful career.
Speaking of that impact, it will last longer than you think. I never expected to form lasting connections with students that would continue after they graduated. To this day, many of my former students keep in touch through email or social media and continually check in with me about their lives.
Just recently, one emailed to say they’d received a promotion! They’re also quick to get in touch when they have plans to be near campus and would like to say hello. It’s not uncommon to receive thank you notes at the end of the year filled with words of gratitude—something that only reinforces my choice of profession.
Many teachers feel drawn to this career due to their love of learning. I am always surprised by how often my students teach me about things I wouldn’t otherwise know about, whether it’s culturally, demographically, or even within my field of study. The world is continuously changing and evolving, and the classroom is a continual opportunity for me to learn from those who may have a different perspective on it.
One of the most unanticipated aspects of being a teacher is really how little teaching is actually about teaching. Sounds, contradictory, right? But that’s proof that the education profession is widely encompassing. Future teachers should prepare for unexpected challenges—many of which they can only encounter in the classroom. But, but by having a good idea of what teaching is like, they can be ahead of the curve.
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Jennifer Craven has taught at the college level for the past 10 years. She is currently an instructor at Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA. In addition to teaching, she is a freelance writer, specializing in parenting, lifestyle, and fashion industries.