A little over a year ago, I remember sitting in one of my first ever grad school classes. We were discussing with our professor what it’s like when you first start teaching. To paraphrase one of the main points from that discussion, he told us that our first year, we would not be good teachers.
Yes, you read that correctly. Let me explain.
First, I need to clarify that he was a great professor and in no way meant this statement negatively. His point was that to become a great teacher, you need time to reflect and grow, time that you just don’t have yet your first year teaching. This isn’t surprising after thinking about it; to be a great teacher, to be a great anything, you need to work at it. Now, certainly there are first year teachers who do objectively fantastic jobs and fall into their teaching niches within the first year. The point of my professor’s lesson, in my eyes anyway, is that even if you do a good job, you will get even better with time and effort. The gap between your current teaching ability and your ideal version of yourself as an educator will narrow as you approach that ideal self with reflection, maturation, and an open mind.
My student teaching experience was excellent, and I’m so grateful for the students and teachers who made it such a fulfilling and educational experience. That being said, there were times during student teaching when I would get up to the front of the class and just feel totally out of place, like I wasn’t really a teacher and eventually I would be “figured out.” From talking to other members of the teacher cohort, I know I wasn’t alone in this; I think that everyone, whether teachers or doctors or athletes or any other profession, occasionally become afraid that they aren’t up to the task at hand, that they can’t do the job as well as they need or want to. It’s a totally normal feeling to have sometimes and I think that more than anything, it shows that the individual in question cares about doing a good job.
In those momentary periods of doubt and frustration, when I felt like I was not yet the teacher I wanted to be, I remembered what my professor said, and instead of focusing on being the best teacher, I focused on being the best teacher I could be in that moment, with the understanding that I was and always will be growing into my ideal version of myself as an educator. The best part? As soon as I remembered that, it was like the fog would lift and I could focus on teaching, instead of worrying, and in that moment I would become a better teacher, every time.
I plan to carry my professor’s lesson with me into my first year as a teacher. Teaching is an incredibly involved profession, one that requires an almost mind-bending amount of thought and time to do effectively. This time and thought requires experience, so instead of focusing on how far away you might be from this ideal version of you as a teacher, in those moments of disillusionment, focus on being the absolutely best teacher you can be in this moment, right now, and know that with time and reflection, you will be even better.