(As a way to be more accessible to more people, this is the first in a series of blog posts where I will have audio with my written text. This way more people can get the information I am sharing despite any auditory/visual issues they may have. They can use a translator to translate the text if needed as well.)
My first year of teaching was an impactful learning experience similar to what most teachers experience during their first year. What was different was the fact that I switched classes and students only 3 weeks into the school year.
I got hired by a school district who knew their Physics teacher was close to retirement and being one of the few new teachers in the state of Iowa that year with a Physics degree who wanted to teach high school Physics, it was a perfect match. I was initially hired for a position that was vacated by another retiring science teacher but I was teaching classes like Environmental Science and Meteorology. The year started and I was feverishly working to design lessons for my students and learning a lot along the way.
It was on the Friday morning of my 3rd week, and not even a full 3 weeks thanks to Labor Day weekend ,when my Department Chair came to me to let me know that after the weekend, I would be teaching Physics. You see, the current Physics teacher was going on “early retirement” due to “health issues” and those quotes had to be added because there were many valid reasons for why this teacher was done for the year, after only 3 weeks, but those were the official ones given.
Over the weekend we spent over 24 hours in my new classroom, cleaning out all of the old stuff left behind by a teacher who had taught for over 30 years but made it look like it was closer to 100 years thanks to all of the stuff we had to go through. We spent a lot of time designing some lessons for that next week to re-engage the students in learning, those that had been utterly confused by the “methods” of the former teacher.
We had a lot of work to do because the former teacher, who we will call Tibbs, had not properly done anything effectively in those first 3 weeks. This teacher had both Physics classes and the 9th-grade Environmental Science class. The problem was that he only had one lesson plan for the whole day and these 9th graders were doing the same exact thing as the 11th and 12th graders. He would spend countless classes lecturing by running his Powerpoints in a dark classroom and then giving a 100 question test because there were 100 rows on the scantron. After 3 weeks of this, the students were lost and it was decided it was best just start as if it was day 1.
Tibbs had been teaching a long time but was no longer an effective teacher. They might have been at one time but his lessons were not designed for his students. His lessons were designed a long time ago and he was merely just lecturing between test days. His lab supplies were poorly organized and materials that could be hazardous were not properly stored. We would find many things in that classroom that would make us question the safety of the students who had been in there previously but the biggest damage was done by his lack of caring for student learning. He was more concerned that he taught his lecture than if any student in that room had learned anything. I say this by not just using information from students but because I had sat through one of his classes after I was done student teaching at that school. I spent a week of my time after student teaching to sit in all of the other classrooms to learn what I could. All I learned from sitting through his was that I fell asleep way too easily when very bored.
Actually, I did learn something else, and it was a very important thing. I learned what I did not want to become as a teacher. I could only assess Tibbs based on what I experienced but he was the complete opposite of the teacher that I wanted to become. I wanted to become a teacher to help students, not to just deliver content to them. I wanted to ensure they were learning and not just delivering lessons and hoping they might learn something.
I would spend countless hours after school during that first year, and the years to follow, ending my day by sitting in the student desks as I reflected on what they had learned. I was always trying to find ways to get better and would do the work necessary to help my students. I knew that if there came a day when I would stop learning, I would have to stop teaching. Tibbs was done learning and was done caring about their students. They kept teaching because that was what they did and they had a deep love of their content but their focus on actual student learning had left long ago. I learned a great lesson from Tibbs but they had never taught anything about it, they had just shown me what I would never want to become and made sure that I would care more about learning than teaching.
So please, don’t be like Tibbs. Instead, value learning over teaching, value growth over comfort, value students over content.