by Gabriella Welch
The sign on the door that says “Welcome” in the shape of an apple. The walls dressed with the standards (the students will, the teacher will); the rules (be respectful, be helpful, be prepared, be prompt, be focused); and inspirational quotes or encouraging messages (anything by Confucius or Einstein). This is your classroom.
As students walk past the welcome sign, nerves and anticipation overwhelm you. This is what you’ve been working toward. Finally, you are here.
What they do not tell you is how often Confucius and Einstein will be there for you, or that the rules will become your mantra.
There will be days when you will merely be an obstacle in your students’ lives. Their concerns will center on their problems at home, their problems in the schoolyard, and their problems in academics. There will be days when asking students to read will result in anger because of their embarrassment and inability to read fluently. You may not understand why they are disrespectful to you when all you have tried to do is help. At the end of the day, they need you to acknowledge their problems. This is when you will realize that your job is to respect them enough to validate them.
There will be days when you are so frustrated with the lack of effort on your students’ part that you want to hide under your desk with the lights off, hoping no one will find you. As a teacher, you cannot allow yourself this option. Remember: knowledge is power. Know your students. Know their strengths, their weaknesses, and their character. Find their drive and motivate them. Reiterate directions in simple terms, break down information, and, rather than allow them to fail an assignment, allow them to understand. Try and try and try until you have nothing left—and then try some more.
There will be days when you are the only person in the classroom with a pencil or a sheet of paper. Some days, you will be the only person who has read the notes, studied the material, and completed the assignment. It is days like these when you must use your preparation to determine theirs. Hand out pencils, hand out paper, and preach the material as if you didn’t expect them to know anything beforehand.
There will be days when you stayed up late the night before, wake up late, or forget breakfast, but being prompt means being early. Be mentally present and available to your students: this is how you build authentic relationships with them. Their questions may or may not be about your class. Their motivation to sit in your classroom during break may or may not be to study, but you may be what they need for a short amount of time. For some, you will be the only constant in their life.
There will be days when you will need to remind yourself why you are here—to remind yourself that the goal is not to reach a specific standard or benchmark but to create the atmosphere, opportunity, and know-how for learning. You are in the business of building character, building capability, and building associations between self and success.
If there is anything that you will realize as a teacher, it is that there is not necessarily a coherent job description. There is a list of occupations that you will fulfill. You will be teacher, counselor, mother/father, friend, custodian, artist, performer, and provider.
You will teach the curriculum, you will listen to concerns, you will offer praise, you will joke and laugh, you will spend your free time picking up after them, you will stay up late at night testing project ideas, and you will pretend that by 6th period you’re still excited about fractions, cells, poems, and World War II.
And you will provide snacks, pencils, highlighters, jackets, books, and yourself—every fiber of yourself.
What they do not tell you is this: as hard as it is and as busy as you are, you will love your students like your own, and one day you will stop being frustrated and stop feeling overwhelmed. One day, you will start being patient, and more important, resilient.
Gabriella Welch is a middle school science teacher. She is also a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with a specialty in curriculum design. Welch has plans to pursue a doctorate in urban studies.