I knew what I was getting into. I’d heard about all the children for years. The classroom teacher with patience. The one who was firm. The class clown. The spinny office desk chairs and the new lockers. What I wasn’t prepared for was what it would be like for me to become a classroom teacher in my kids’ school.
After nearly 20 years as a radio DJ I enjoyed speaking setting an upbeat tone and encouraging. I decided the classroom would be a great place for me to merge these skills with my gift of exhortation. I greatly desired to see the students at this small private Christian school take ownership of their faith and not just do what was required by some school curriculum and a binder of worksheets.
I started out simply teaching a writing class on Fridays. Every Friday my students wrote a paper on a topic for our class blog. I bonded with the students as I learned their own challenges as they shared them in their writing. They were trying to figure out their faith. I discovered some were better in front of a camera so we developed a few videos. Another student had a talent for photography so we let her shine by taking all the class photos.
Then it morphed into a three-days a week position. With each time setting my feet in the classroom I had a challenge to face. Would I give in to frustration with the student who disliked me and refused to work? How could I keep the attention of the wide variety of ages represented in my K-9th Spanish class? What about the bullied child? The one who came from a difficult home? The one who had been suicidal and the one who had had 20+ back surgeries or the one with the brain injury? How could I love each with Jesus’ love?
Here are 5 Things I Learned During My First Year of Teaching:
- The backstory matters. In all schools students come with emotional baggage and a spiritual worldview. Getting to know where a student is coming from can help you reach them academically. It can help you merge their passion with what is necessary to teach them. It can also help you as a teacher have compassion for a student who is in the seat but is obviously not “present.”
- Learn the lingo. Learn the culture. Make it a priority to understand what they are into. One of the things I researched was 50 Reasons Why. It helped be able to intelligently talk with the students who were watching the show. Then there’s the Dab, fidget spinners and water bottle flipping… So much of this is listening and watching the students to gather what is important to them.
- He’s big. I’m bigger. As a woman I find it easy to be intimidated by football player-size male students. Put on the persona of itty bitty, but tough Leigh Anne Tuohy and get going! I was grateful to have administrators who would back me up when I had disciplinary issues. I had to confront and the big boys, but I had the authority.
- I’m not changing anybody, but God is. A Christian school is a perfect place for conformity, but may not mean heart change is happening. Pray for the heart change because you can’t assignment-your-way to Jesus.
- Be honest and authentic. When I talked about my own sins and weaknesses with my students I could feel them relax. It was like the whole room exhaled. I was relatable and they could be honest about their own stuff. I am still learning to do this, but when I balance authority with authenticity there is something magical that happens.