It's a widely known fact that many new elementary teachers leave their jobs after only one year of teaching. A fact that isn't widely known is that they leave because they were fired. Terminating a new teacher can be accomplished very quietly, without any notice or interventions by simply "not renewing" the teacher's contract. In my almost 30 years as a teacher, I have seen many beginning teachers fired, and it wasn't because they didn't know how to teach, that's very well covered in teacher education programs, no, they were fired because of their poor conduct and improprieties.
The Truth Behind: "It Looks Easy."
No one really knows what it's like being an elementary teacher until they're actually doing it. Even though most teacher education programs require student teachers to spend many hours in real classrooms observing and learning from an experienced classroom teacher, it's the classroom teacher who remains in complete control over the cluster of children, and the student teacher is shielded or covered under her umbrella of power, even though this power may seem undetectable.
Everything may appear to run smoothly, effortlessly, organized and structured, and the children are very cooperative and attentive, but in reality, this is a misleading perception that plagues popular public opinion which holds elementary teaching as being easy and a job almost anyone can do (e.g., remember the quote from George Bernard Shaw often used to disparage teachers: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach"). The classroom environment only appears this way because of the huge amount of work that the supervising classroom teacher has put into teaching her students to be organized, structured, cooperative, attentive, and disciplined. While it is true that most jobs are actually learned while working in them; elementary teaching is a job that presents itself as a shock of huge proportions to those who enter into it, no matter how well people think they're prepared.
Abilities That Reach Beyond
Children are by nature, wild, untamed beings. Most of them lack structure, organization, social skills, and their moral compasses are just beginning to come into alignment. Don't get me wrong, I love children or I wouldn't have gone into the elementary teaching profession and stayed until retirement. I have three children of my own and two grandchildren. While I was growing up, I was given a lot of responsibility in helping to raise my much younger brothers and sister. Before going into teaching, I had many experiences working with children, and along with my teacher education courses, I thought I was well prepared for the profession of teaching, but I was wrong. Being solely responsible for the education and behavior management of a classroom of 25-30 children requires abilities that reach beyond human comprehension.
Besides the children in the classroom, teachers are also accountable to the parents of the children, the school, and the community. Because of these multiple layers of responsibility, teachers are faced with many opportunities to fail unless they have a solid plan for success. In this article, I will share my plan that led me through some of the most difficult challenges of my life, and at the same time, brought me some of the most joyful, rewarding moments that I will always treasure.
You are Entrusted
To begin with, I started and ended each teaching day on my knees, literally, with my Bible in my hands and praying out to God to lead me through the day with His wisdom and knowledge (James 1:5), and to protect me and my students from the influences of evil (Ps. 37: 39-40). After almost 30 years of teaching, this is still how I begin and end each day, and I've lived long enough, and have been through enough hardships, to say, that this is the only plan to depend on.
Even though you are the only adult with your students, always remember that these children do not belong to you; they are on loan from their parents and God (Ps. 138:8) for you to take care of during the school day. This is what I reminded myself each day, and because of this tenet, I did whatever I could to treat each child with love, caring, and respect no matter what the circumstances, and no matter what happened to me. I realized that God gave me this job for a reason, and I was ultimately accountable to Him (Col. 3:23).
You are Accountable
Elementary teachers are accountable to the parents of their students. My belief for each child was that his parents loved him and wanted the best for him, and that it wasn't my place to pass judgment, but instead, to work towards cooperation in the best interest of the child. There were many times when parents were struggling through divorce, death in the family, job-loss, and criminal activity; and I observed the affects of these family circumstances on their children I was teaching. My response was to pray for these families and to trust God to take care of them (Rom. 8:28). As a public school teacher, I was aware of what I could and couldn't do legally regarding religion in my classroom. I couldn't lead my students in prayer, but I could have a moment of silence and reflection during emotionally upsetting events that were impacting their lives, some examples include the following: when many of their parents were deployed for war, the attack on the World Trade Center, the Oklahoma City bombing, and when a local grain elevator explosion killed many men in our civic community. I could pray with a student if he asked me to, and tragically, I had the opportunity to do this when the mother of one of my students was found murdered, and he asked me to pray with him. Students could bring their own Bibles and read them during free-choice reading time. During study hall, students also studied and quizzed each other in preparation for Bible Bowls taking place at the community churches.
Elementary teachers are accountable to the school. The school a teacher teaches in is a community of coworkers. My attitude was that I was there to learn from them, and each person had something valuable to pass on to me. I viewed everyone as my mentor, not only the other teachers, but the custodians, secretaries, and maintenance workers. I was part of this school community, and I needed to be accountable to everyone in it. Each morning, I arrived about an hour before I was required to be there, and each afternoon, I stayed at least an hour past the time I could've left. I spent some of this time getting to know the people I worked with. For example, in the mornings, I would walk to a teacher's classroom and ask her a question or two about teaching. Not only did this demonstrate to her I respected her opinion, it also demonstrated I was willing to learn from her, needed her advice, and I was making my best efforts towards fitting in, to become part of the community. Of course, I also learned a lot, and they also gave me a plethora of hand-me-down supplies for my classroom, for which I was always grateful to accept.
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