Dear Student Teacher, Thank You For Saving My Teaching Career

Dear Student Teacher,

I have never told you this, but about this time last spring I considered quitting teaching.

It had been a rough year. We had lost several students to tragedy and my heart was tired. I was drowning trying to balance being a good teacher, being a good colleague, working on graduate courses, balancing meetings, coaching slam poetry, and all other parts of “real life” outside of my job. I was completely burned out. I just felt like I couldn’t catch my breath and knew I was failing at it all.

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I had even applied for several jobs outside of teaching, assuming I needed a change. When the end of May came, I decided that I should probably at least finish my master’s program in education before completely bailing on the career. And as most teachers will relate, the summer healed some of my stress.

But with the start of the new school year, I felt the weight return to my shoulders. I tried not to show it, but I just felt like I was treading water every day. The smallest things were keeping me up at night and I just didn’t think I could handle the stress of it all. I still deeply cared about my students, but I was so preoccupied with the challenges and problems in my job that I just felt like a poser. On the outside, I tried to act confident and energized, but on the inside, I was falling apart.

In late fall, I was told you would be my student teacher from January to May. I was petrified. I thought:

“I am not the best version of myself right now. I don’t even know if I want to keep teaching and now I’m supposed to guide someone into the path that I don’t even think I can continue?!”

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I was completely terrified that I would ruin you and I had not even met you yet. I worried about this for months. I talked with colleagues who assured me that it would be a good thing, but even they were unaware of my insecurities and struggles with teaching.

And then the day came… you burst into my classroom with the most excited smile and lights behind your eyes. You had such a passionate aura and a ridiculous amount of energy. You were ready to the light the world on fire with your teaching… I could tell. I remembered when I thought I could light the world on fire.

I thought: I’m going to ruin her. I’m going to kill her spirit. She deserves someone better who knows what they are doing and feels confident about the teacher they are.

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As I began integrating you into my classroom, you asked questions. Lots of them. Some that really made me reflect and think about before answering. Even as we delivered my lessons, you jumped right in and didn’t hesitate. You were so confident in the difference you were going to make. I was floored. I remembered feeling that passion.

As you began taking over, I heard you say “I found this cool lesson idea last night, I’m going to try it today…” I remembered how I used to find that cool lesson idea and try it the next day.

As you got to know our students, you pointed out those who were really struggling and you really dedicated yourself to those students instead of letting them barely slide by… I remembered doing that.

I saw your enthusiasm and remembered why I became a teacher in the first place.

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Your energy was contagious. I loved working side by side with you in the classroom. I loved bouncing ideas off each other and working in tangent to keep all students on task and engaged. I loved how we kept each other motivated when the caffeine wore off. It was seriously awesome. You became a vital part of our classroom.

Then you took over. (And for the record, you were amazing…) You were reflective, passionate, engaging, and dedicated. You were helping students overcome challenges, taking risks with your lessons, listening to your students and building relationships in the classroom… your passion and energy were helping students succeed.

But after a few weeks of not being the teacher, I began missing it desperately. I found myself envying the work you were doing with students. I was so excited for the success you were having with even the “tough” ones and realized I missed those challenges.

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In the last few weeks, I have done some serious soul searching. In this soul searching, I’ve found myself thinking:

I miss seeing students overcome challenges.

I miss being there for them when they need someone to listen.

I miss finding an awesome new tool and trying it out in the classroom.

I miss using my energy to inspire students to succeed.

I miss students.

I miss teaching.

I want to light the world on fire again.

That short time of not teaching made me realize that I belong in the classroom. It is absolutely where I want to be. And I honestly don’t know if I would have come to that same realization without your help.

Next week you are graduating and leaving to run your own classroom. It will feel weird to look over at your desk and not have you grinning back at me. You don’t know what you have done for me, but I will never be able to repay you. I dread saying goodbye to you and I warn you I’m a bit of a crier in those situations.

However, I feel like I’ve found my teacher voice again. I can’t wait to set the world on fire again and pour the same passion I started with (in my student teaching) back into my classroom.smilie-954980_960_720

You know who you are and I can never thank you enough.

Sincerest Thank You,

Sam

 

Read more about having a student teacher:

Keep the conversation going…

  • What have been your student teaching experiences?
  • What experiences have you had as a cooperating teacher?
  • What fears may occur during the student teaching period for both the student teacher and the cooperating teacher?

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Graduate School: A Rewarding Challenge

As posted on Teaching and Learning blog on November 1, 2014

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After three years of teaching at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs, IA, I decided to accept the challenge to further my education. Last spring, I began the online Professional Educator’s Graduate Program through Morningside College. I believe I made this decision rather lightly as I did not realize the monumental challenges and rewards that would come with participating in education as a genuine learner once again.

The Challenges:

TIME: I completely underestimated the amount of time that I would need to dedicate to my work as a graduate student. This became most stressful during the school year, particularly during the current fall semester. As I tried to manage both learning and teaching, I sometimes felt like I was not able to give my highest priority to either. Additionally, with the time commitment to both teaching and learning, I struggled to incorporate the necessary time to enjoy my friends, family, and enjoyment of life.

WORKING WITH OTHERS: Other times, I struggled with specific course requirements that frustrated me. I became irritated when I had to work in groups with educators I did not know (communicating usually only via technology) to complete specific projects and assignments. As I hold myself to very high expectations, I did not like that my performance evaluation would be impacted by the work of others.

ENTERING THE UNKNOWN: Particularly this semester, I really struggled with some of the academic reading about educational issues that I had never considered before. I have spent the majority of my teaching career only considering the problems and successes of my district, my school, and primarily my classroom because these are the only educational worlds I really knew and felt I could impact. I became frustrated having to read about topics like vouchers, private schools, mandated pre-school, state mandates, etc. I would often ask myself: How can this possibly help me to become a better educator in my 12th grade English class in Council Bluffs, IA?

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The Rewards: 

TIME: While some weeks the challenge of managing the piling up of 90 papers from my 12th-grade students and the 15-page paper that I need to write on the Common Core feels impossible, I have found that somehow it all works out. More importantly, I am able to remember that students are struggling with this same type of time managing with their schoolwork, part-time jobs, activities, friends, and families. I’ve discovered though, that not only am I able to discuss my own struggles with time managing to students, but I am able to offer real strategies that I use to juggle my life with those students that are approaching adulthood themselves. I find myself often tweeting out (to my many student followers) when I am finding time and strategies to study… followed by #ILearnToo.

WORKING WITH OTHERS: While initially my frustrations and emotions were high when having to work with other educators in the program, I’ve found that so many things evolve from these relationships that I am building. I have begun forming an extended world of educators who support my ideas and have ideas of their own. I’m networking with teachers in schools all across the Midwest and hearing about how things are different and similar to what is happening in my school. I’ve been able to offer my input and get advice on things like 1:1 initiatives, the Teacher Leadership Compensation Program, and the Common Core Standards. I will shamefully admit that I originally underestimated the brilliance and input of my fellow educators… I’m excited that I now get to really enjoy these challenging conversations and collaboration projects. (Although I’ll admit the conversations are more intriguing to me than the actual project completion now.)

ENTERING THE UNKNOWN: Specifically after the last two months, while enrolled in an Issues in Education Course in my graduate program, I am starting to see the big picture. I have never been a “big picture” person… quite the opposite of many of my friends and colleagues. However, I feel that I have made monumental progress in having to stretch my mind to address and discuss big questions like:

  • How can transformation in education create greater cohesion in our society and globally?
  • How do you define an exemplary teacher and how do we ensure all teachers are performing at the highest competency levels?
  • How “democratic” are student-centered classrooms? Can an inclusive classroom be democratic?
  • How do we leverage the immense power and potential of the Internet, digital tools and social media to enable learners and teachers to connect in purposeful ways across borders and boundaries to contribute to making the world a safer, saner and more just place?

Two months ago, just reading these question made my brain feel like it was going to explode. However, the more I read about education problems, policies, and theories, the more confident I feel synthesizing this information into having plans and ideas of my own that address these big pictures.

I have really come to a very basic conclusion: If it affects education then it affects me and I need to know about it. 

While the challenges of graduate school are great, so are the rewards. I feel in the last year of participating in learning and teaching, I’ve grown in so many ways. I value time and am able to better balance my duty to my students, my duty to myself as a learner, and my duty to my colleagues. I value interacting, communicating, and collaborating with educators from all across the profession. Most importantly, I am able to see how all of these things amount to a bigger picture… improving education for my students, my colleagues’ students, and all students.

Keep learning in teaching!