I always wanted to work with children, when I was growing up even I wrote an attendance roll and called out names of imaginary children! But now, working as a primary school teacher, my perspective on the role and, my reasons for being a teacher have changed dramatically from the days when I thought, ‘it would be fun’. Teaching is an important and honourable occupation that demands commitment. You have the opportunity (and the responsibility) to impact on students’ lives in a positive way, this is a huge privilege that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
When people ask me what I like most about my job they usually follow the question with, “holidays?” – but the truth is that it is not even close.
For 99% of us, it is the students.
For me it is a rewarding responsibility to work with small children who can be so easily ‘crushed’ (their feelings, their confidence, their attitude) but not necessarily so easily motivated. This responsibility makes the sum total of an entire classes’ needs a heavy burden, yet when any one student really ‘gets’ something, (that ‘ah ha!’) moment, there is not a better feeling in the world.
Each student has a unique personality and talent, and from the beginning of the year to the last day of school, it’s fascinating to watch how students grow. For example, in my classroom, every morning before the students arrive I will write the daily itinerary on the white board. This morning I watched them all check the board for directions, and move about the room completing their usual morning responsibilities (putting things away, getting particular books and equipment ready). The morning routine has been in place all year, and the students had become increasingly independent. However, this morning I noticed how all the students, even the ones who had trouble actioning instructions in the first week, could get through the routine without needing me. As a teacher, you will take pride in small changes, and for someone reading this, I understand that you may not appreciate the gravity of a 32 sub-eight-year olds learning ‘morning responsibilities’; but as a teacher, it shows a development in their sense of routine and purpose.
Something more relatable, and another ‘win’ moment of the day when a quiet student whose writing was usually a bit underdeveloped (“…then i woke up”) had produced a story where each scene was slowly developed with descriptions and structure (they draw their stories first). See, writing is a difficult subject to teach, and requires patience and persistence. With a topic of high interest and understanding (like, technology or transport) and months of practice, you will see your students craft wonderful stories, and one of the best experiences in my role is equipping them with the skills to express their unbelievable imagination!
Some of the stories you read will have you in stitches.
What I didn’t realise:
What I didn’t realise about being a primary school teacher is that you are as much a service for parents, as you are for their children. So, from about 8am onward and after the bell rings at 3pm, I am available at the school to chat with parents who have concerns about learning progress, illness, friendships or class projects.
Teacher training doesn’t focus a lot of time on how teachers can best work with parents, but it’s a crucial part being a teacher. The emotional involvement of parents means that I will often have parents raise their voices at me at me, cry in front of me, or contact me excessively when they worry they are not being heard.
Setting boundaries with parents in the early years is definitely a struggle. 90% of parents will give you no trouble at all, while a small few will seem to be full of controversy. Remember, that behind every individual you teach are parents and carers that want to see them thrive.
To be a good teacher you will need to care as much about the progress of their child as they do. And you will need to explain to parents, through both conversation and your daily actions, that you are sincere in the education of their child and exhausting all avenues to help them. Parents need to feel confident in your care for their child.
A teacher has the opportunity to impact student’s lives in a positive way, this is a huge privilege that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
When it comes to the students, earning respect is just as important.
I remember when I was doing my practical placement when I was in university. I tried to look “old” so my students, and the teacher, would take me seriously and respect me. Little did I know it had nothing to do with my appearance. Earning respect has to start from day one. It’s about being consistent, fair, and dependable as a teacher. Once you’ve earned their respect, all the hard work you’ve put into being someone they can respect is without a doubt, worth it.
This leads me to what makes an outstanding teacher, someone who is able to inspire a love of learning in pupils of different backgrounds and personalities, and this means, no favouritism! In my early days as a teacher I often favoured those that behaved best, and that exemplified an interest in learning. Of course, it is because these student’s eagerness to impress makes your day easier. To be a great teacher, you need to find a balance between motivating the less contentious students, which is often timely, without taking too much time from those students who want to learn. A true balancing act!
What I love about the job:
Well that’s easy, there’s no greater satisfaction than being able to say, I taught you something today.