I’ve taught in some capacity for years—preschoolers, seniors, peers, college students, etc. Yet, when I taught my own college class—just me with no lead teacher to guide me/take the blame for my mistakes—I didn’t realize how many aspects there were to teaching. I started to write down all of the “secrets” to being a teacher and found that there were just too many to put in one post, so this will become a series. I am spilling the academic tea here. Oh dear, that last line was painful. I don’t think that I can ever be cool. My hip is so broken that I need a hip replacement. Okay, okay, I’ll stop. Maybe . . .
Teachers, what are some secrets that you have? Students, which of these secrets surprised you?
1. We want our students to like us, but we know that a lot of that is not up to us. In a perfect world, every student would like their teachers and vice versa. Yet, I’ve found that, sometimes, no matter what you do, some students just aren’t going to like you as a teacher. It actually makes sense, because some personalities simply don’t mesh. It’s disappointing, but I haven’t found a solution to this. Maybe if I gave all of my students donuts each week, then they’d all like me. Who can dislike someone when they give you donuts?
2. We hate grading. Grading is a necessary evil. Students need to know what they’re doing well and what needs improvement. But, my gosh, it’s horrible. It’s the bane to a teacher’s existence. This is not necessarily because we’re bored with the papers (although, that can happen). It’s just that there are so many of them, and it’s grating/soul-crushing that we know that many of our students will briefly glance at the comments (maybe) and then lose the paper or toss it in the trash. Students, if you’re going to toss your papers, please, please, please at least don’t do it in front of us.
3. We can tell when you’re texting. Seriously, we can. When I see students staring down at their crotches, I know that it’s not because they’re fascinated by their pant seams. Students sit in unnatural positions when they text, and we can tell immediately. So, do us a favor, and just don’t.
4. We honestly root for our students. When I know that a student has been trying hard, I root for that student to get questions right in class and to do well on papers. I’ve audibly said, “Atta way” when a student has finally conquered something that I know that he’s been struggling with or when I see a student make a move in her writing that is pure perfection. Most of us actually want our students to succeed.
5. We can tell when students are having a rough day. If the class is small enough (around 20 students or so), teachers eventually become familiar with their students’ classroom mannerisms. I can walk into class and know which students usually smile and say “hello,” which ones sit quietly, which ones fiddle with their pens, etc. So, I can see pretty quickly when something is different. Maybe one of my smiley students has her head hanging or maybe an individual isn’t dressed up as stylishly as she usually is. I can tell when something is off, and while I’ll never ask (because it’s none of my business), I’ll make sure to be a little easier on that student. Maybe I won’t call on her that day, or maybe I’ll give her a little extra praise should she answer a question correctly. This kind of compassion leads me to . . . .
6. We are aware that our students have other classes. I will never deny the fact that I make my students work hard during the semester. I make them read, write, take numerous quizzes, and I expect their best efforts on their assignments. What can I say? I have high expectations for the brains sitting in front of me in my classroom. That being said, I try to schedule major due dates during times when I think that other teachers aren’t assigning huge projects or tests. I remember being a student (heck, I still am one), and things tend to pile up around midterms and finals. So, I try to do fun topics and easy homework assignments around those times, and I try not schedule any major papers around those dates. For example, during midterms, I try to do light homework assignments where the students still practice some of their skills, but they can finish the assignment in under 20 minutes. That being said . . . .
7. Every homework assignment we give our students has a purpose. Most teachers hate grading, remember? So, why in the world would we ever give our students work just to give them work and make even more work for ourselves? Admittedly, as an undergraduate, I didn’t really understand why teachers assigned homework. Now, while I still don’t understand entirely why the homework load was so much, I do get that there’s typically a purpose to homework. Usually, homework assignments will have one or more of the following purposes: 1) to give students an opportunity to practice valuable concepts, 2) to provide me (the teacher) a chance to check in on my students’ understandings of the material and see if I need to revisit anything or spend more time on a certain concept, 3) to use as part of the foundation for bigger assignments, and 4) to boost students’ grades.
8. There are some topics that we don’t enjoy teaching, but we try to hide that. I don’t really enjoy teaching my students about semicolons. Semicolons aren’t exciting, we don’t use them a whole heck of a lot in our writing, and they’re not one of my favorite punctuation marks. Yes, I do have a favorite punctuation mark. #nerd However, I still give lessons on the pompous semicolon (because if a punctuation mark could ever be pompous, then the semicolon surely would be), because students need to be aware of what they are and how to use them. That knowledge helps my students on their paths to becoming well-rounded writers and, who knows, maybe they’ll come to love the semicolon. You never know.
9. We get nervous on the first day of class. Yep, students aren’t the only ones who get nervous. The first day is an exciting time bursting with possibility, and we as teachers feel it just like students do. I always get so nervous that I’m nauseous for the first five minutes of my first class. Then, as I start to teach, everything calms, and it feels so good and natural to get back in the groove.
10. We get embarrassed too. When you’re a teacher, you say A LOT of words. Sometimes, those words get away from you, and you wish that you could pull them back. Other times, students hit us with a zingers that make us simultaneously laugh and want to crawl into a hole and hide until the semester ends. Here’s an example. One of my favorite students, let’s call him “Bob,” was being hyper and not focusing on the group work I had assigned to the class. I had given him two nudges to get back to work, but he kept getting distracted. I finally said, “Bob, do I need to come over and just stare at you to keep you on task?” He put his hand on his hip, waggled his finger, and said, “You can look, but you can’t touch.” The class roared with laughter, and part of me wanted to shrivel up from embarrassment. Yet, the other part of me couldn’t stop laughing because it was such a great line. So, yes, we teachers get embarrassed too. But, students, that shouldn’t stop you from giving us your awesome lines and jokes. That’s another secret about teachers. We can handle the embarrassment. 🙂
I learned from my daughter, a grad student who is in her second year of teaching a 100-level composition course, that not everyone is as fascinated by composition and rhetoric as I was when I started out as a TA!
Yeah, it’s unfortunate, but some students don’t see how powerful rhetoric and composition can be. I try to portray it as their opportunity to actually use Jedi mind powers, lol. That’s wonderful that your daughter is a grad student and is teaching! Where is she teaching at, if you don’t mind me asking?
she’s at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
That’s terrific! That’s one of the top rhet. comp. programs in the country. Congratulations to her, and good job on raising such a smart cookie! 🙂