My biggest fear with studying to become a teacher is that I will reach my fifth year, finally get experience with my career, and then realizing it wasn’t for me. After four years of schooling, it’s not likely that you’re going to switch your major so then you end up sticking it out and then you’re stuck with a degree that you don’t even enjoy. Unlike other careers, you can’t just get an internship with education to figure out if you like it and of course you can tutor but it’s not the same as actually being the teacher. Teaching is so much more than just teaching.
This semester, I was offered a job as an SLA facilitator in a college algebra class. Essentially, I teach the class twice a week for an hour and I have a lot of flexibility on how I run the class for the hour. Talk about first hand experience; am I right? I didn’t have a lot of time to prep for this job but I knew above all else, I wanted to be able to relate with the students in my class. At the time, I had no idea how I would do that but after a few weeks in the class I started to develop my teaching style. I encourage students to put their work on the white board and then allow the other students to help correct any mistakes. If I am working through a problem on the board, I usually don’t do the problem before hand, that way the students can correct any mistakes I may make. This creates an atmosphere of freedom in the class, freedom to mess up, say the wrong answer, or to not understand how to do a certain problem. I learned a strategy from my “math activities for secondary education” class for taking attendance by having students write their name on a piece of paper and then writing the answer to a fun question next to their name. I altered the questions to things that would help me get to know them better, which created a more personable relationship between them and myself because I knew more about them than just their first name. This has been crucial in the amount of interaction I get out of them during the class period. That didn’t come from knowing how to teach math well or even being an expert in math, but rather understanding how to connect with a college kid.
The first two or three weeks, I wasn’t really connecting with them like I wanted too. I decided to organize a study group outside of class and that completely changed the dynamic of the classroom. During this study group they asked me if I was taking classes on top of doing this job and I told them that I was indeed. That information wasn’t pushed to the side but rather they noticed I was taking time out of my schedule to help further their education. There was a level of respect that was gained because they saw I cared more about them then just standing in front of the class and word vomiting information at them. I invested time to make sure they understand, to answer any questions, and even just to get to know them better. Again, it was not how smart I was or my level of education that helped me in the classroom but rather gaining a level of respect so I could have the opportunity to inspire their minds.
So what am I getting at with this? Am I saying that my math degree is worthless? Am I saying that I don’t need a degree to be a good teacher? No, not at all. What I am trying to say is, I think there’s an underlining opportunity in education that gets shoved to the back because of the things the state requires us to cram into a child’s brain. That underlying opportunity is inspiring kids to be motivated to get an education that means more than memorizing an equation. School is not about sitting at a desk, scribbling down everything that a teachers spits out, cramming your brain with information to pass a test, or even getting an A. It’s about being in an atmosphere where we can learn from one another. An atmosphere where we can grow, make mistakes, respect one another, and be encouraged to be the best version of ourselves, which comes from allowing students to express themselves and learn in whatever way is best for them. As a teacher, it's up to us to facilitate this atmosphere, it's up to us to change the stereotypical mindset of walking into a classroom. The importance of expanding a student's mind beyond a classroom is not highlighted enough. This video inspired a lot of my thinking, I encourage you to watch it.
In our society and country, I can see the importance of school but in a perfect world, I think we can do a lot better than what we're doing. Why are we failing a student that makes mistakes? Why are we not empowering students to give their best, allowing them to make mistakes, and then giving them opportunities to grow from those mistakes? These are the essentials in being a great teacher. Teaching is caring more about a student than how they can perform on an exam. If a teacher doesn't take time to get to know me or even respect me for that matter, how will I perform in their class? Do they know that I'd rather learn through art? Do they know that I can't afford to eat breakfast or dinner so all I can think about in class is food? Do they understand that I can learn better if I'm recognized as a human instead of as just another student? As a future teacher, I need to be exposed to these things. As great as knowing how to write a proof on the ring theory is, I just see so many other things I should be learning.
If I've learned anything from my first-hand experience, it's that being a math teacher is more than writing equations on a board, it's more than understand logarithms, and it's definitely more than how to get all your students to ace an exam. Teaching is more than teaching.