But teaching requires some essential core beliefs, and now, as you contemplate your first days and months in a classroom—your very own classroom!—is the time to recognize and reflect on the beliefs that have brought you to this exciting but sometimes scary place.
Start with the whole enterprise of education. Since humankind came into being, the processes of teaching and learning have been developing. Sure, learning how to make a fire and hunt down a meal are important survival skills, and full bellies and warm places to sleep bring comfort to all living beings. But let us not forget that these skills, passed on from generation to generation and improved upon incrementally as new ideas are had and tried, are the foundations of all social development. Clans, villages, cities, and now modern society came to exist because humans have an inclination to share skills and ideas.
In our time teachers are both sharers and facilitators of sharing. You may be teaching a “subject,” but mathematics or literature or painting or chemistry is the least of what you are offering and modeling. As you know if you recall the teachers who inspired YOU, school is a solvent that softens the walls between us and offers us glue that may hold together what we want and need to create as a society, writ large or small. Instinctively and deeply you know this to be true, or you wouldn’t have taken the path you are now on.
Your reflections on your own learning will bring you to another revelation about yourself: you have the capacity and desire to believe in your students. The good teachers you have had—and here don’t limit yourself to people in schools but include the coaches, mentors, co-workers, collaborators, and family members who have helped you along—believed that YOU had capacities to be discovered and developed, perhaps capacities that you yourself didn’t either know or believe that you had. The personal journey of self-discovery that has been your life, filled with challenges, excitement, failures, and successes, has often been framed, protected, and enhanced by those who believed in you, and you have internalized enough of this to inspire you to become an active believer in the students who will occupy your classroom.
And of course this means that you have the capacity to believe in yourself. Right now, with the opening of school just weeks away, you are experiencing waves of anxiety and self-doubt, and this is not only natural but also a good thing, in its sometimes painful way, as it perhaps has you doing some reflecting and even reading things like this. It’s okay, and it will be okay.
Consider this: The school community that you are joining believes in YOU. Sure, some administrator made the call to hire you and a human relations office has been sending you paperwork, but a SCHOOL has taken you on, and they have not done so numbly or robotically. In your interviews, résumés, transcripts, and recommendations more than one person has seen how you will fit into the community that is the school and what you, just you of all the applicants they saw, can do to evoke the best in your students as you help them understand the nuances of “your subject” while building a supportive and welcoming culture in that classroom to which you may be handed a key soon.
Know that every teacher you ever have had or will have is, right now, feeling moments of self-doubt and having anxious late-summer dreams, but those who have done this for a while know that once a school year becomes real, with real students and real syllabi and a real schedule, everything becomes different. Not necessarily easier, but different—because they know that teaching their subject is not the important part of what they must do.
You will be teaching kids—young human beings, of which you were once one—and you will learn from them as much as they will learn from you. You will discover that being open to and warmly excited by gaining knowledge about their personalities, their differences, their life experiences, their cultures, their human needs, and their educational challenges and preferences, is the best part of the job.
And let yourself be open to these same discoveries about your colleagues and the families and households of your students—each tiny detail is part of the web that makes your school a community. Don’t let the inevitable cynics and naysayers daunt you, either. As you would with a recalcitrant student, suss out their human needs and offer them your belief as you might even seek their counsel. They are in the role they are because, deep inside, they share many, many of your beliefs and even excitement and fears.
Most of all, enjoy the ride on the journey of discovery—of self and of others—upon which you are embarking. Think about how to make your classroom a culture of support, belonging, excitement, and joy. With every inch of progress you make in this endeavor, getting the “subject matter” learning across will be all the easier.
And you will have a whole lot more fun!
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)