If you ever want to get a conversation going in a Methods class for pre-service teachers, ask about their teaching fears. And before you know it, you’ll have a white board covered with fears ranging from school shootings to bathroom breaks, from wardrobe malfunctions to meeting standards, from grading papers to getting yelled at by the principal. It felt like one of those times when I need two or three white boards to capture all the thinking in a classroom. (My ideal classroom? One giant wraparound white board.)
It turns out that pre-service teachers are worried about, well, just about everything.
And since every single item my class brainstormed, with the exception of a school shooting, was one I could share a personal teaching story about, I can’t say they’re off target with their concerns.
When I first started teaching, I didn’t even know enough to know what I ought to be scared of. Before I got into the classroom, any fears I had focused on content. What if I couldn’t explain a concept clearly? What if I didn’t know exactly what to teach? What if my lesson ran short? I thought all the kids would be glad enough to have me as their teacher and want to learn. Or if not learn, at least succeed. Okay, maybe not succeed, but for definite sure pass.
Teaching high school was a very rude awakening.
And suddenly, I had several Fear Boards of my own, only they weren’t abstract fears of things that might or might not happen; they were very specific fears grounded in very specific issues I had with very specific students.
For me, all my fears boiled down to “the kid who.”
The kid who won’t stay in his seat. The kid who has a seizure in your class. The kid who keeps writing about his girlfriend, Mary Jane. The kid who falls asleep in your class. Every. Single. Day. The kid who argues. The kid who never has her homework. The kid who can’t read. The kid who always hugs you. The kid who punches his fist through a wall. The kid who is always late to class. The kid who disappears for thirty-minute bathroom breaks. The kid who starts a fight in your classroom. The kid whose parents come in and yell at you. The kid whose dad beats him. The kid who writes about shooting up the school. The kid who says you’re the worst teacher they’ve ever had. The kid who can’t seem to stay out of your personal space. The kid who gets high in the parking lot at lunch. The kid who can’t write. The kid who storms out of your class. The kid who refuses to hand over her phone. The kid who won’t stop crying. The kid who drops out.
My fears had faces and names and favorite sports teams, and sometimes they even laughed at my jokes.
All my worries about content were really misplaced, because content was the least of my problems in my first year teaching. People were my problem. People I didn’t understand. People I didn’t know how to build relationships with. People who didn’t respect me just because I was the teacher, the one who was supposed to be in charge. People who wanted to know what I was made of before they would agree to learn from me.
My students have always been my best teachers, and the very first lesson they taught me was that learning begins with people, not with content, standards, or curriculum.
They had to know who I was before they wanted to learn from me. And I had to know who they were before I could figure out how to teach them.