Almost a decade ago, I sat on a desk in my classroom talking to my student teacher on her last day. She was sharing her fears about stepping into her own classroom, and I was trying my best to offer her every piece of advice I could muster. The result of that conversation was my book, A Lesson Plan for Teachers, and eventually this blog. My goal in writing both is the same now as it was in the very beginning. I wanted to help new teachers and those who were struggling in their classrooms.
And then I sat down to write the book. While I did include all the topics I felt vital for establishing a highly effective secondary classroom, I also thought it was important to make one thing clear...
It all starts with expectations. And I started my book with that first topic.
Here is a related article I wrote on the topic... one that is still so relevant today!
Teaching without Excuses from the students or from yourself
Why do you teach? Really think about that question. Why do YOU teach? Think about all it means. Why are you in that classroom? Why do you get up each morning, put on your working face, and step into that tropical forest that could grow and flourish or wilt and wither all at your hand? Assuming you are a teacher, and not just one of those among us that took the job for the 3-month vacation (like that really happens), you already know the answer to the question. You are a teacher because, simply stated, you are.
I started teaching as soon as I could speak. Education was important to me, and I wanted everyone to know its importance. Now, unlike so many of today’s students, I was raised with an appreciation of education, a great and mighty need for learning. Even before I started reading at age 3, I forced my knowledge on others, even strangers. It should be understood that I grew up in a time when strangers were not feared as they are today, and often times were welcomed into our homes, especially if they were carrying a Bible or a vacuum. So, as each traveling salesman or missionary came to the door, I would fling open my book and begin my instruction. In the beginning, my lessons were the verses I had memorized in Sunday school the week before, and Grandma would lean down to me and tell me the adults already had this knowledge and that I should run on and play. With a few taps to my head, and laughs from the adults, I would move on to my other victims – an assortment of dolls and stuffed animals arranged neatly in rows across my bedroom floor.
Teaching is in me. It is a need. It is gut. Plain and simple, I must be in a classroom, surrounded by minds that I can instruct. I must be sharing with them, not just my time or my criticism or my resources, but my knowledge and my love of knowledge. I am a teacher because I am.
I feel comfortable in my classroom. Like no other place I have ever been, my classroom is my refuge. It is the place where I feel like I need to be, as some refer to it – my calling. Along with that idea, I consider myself a natural. I don’t say this to be bragging, but it just comes easy to me. It is what I do. It is what I am meant to do. Some will understand this, some will not, and some may someday just “get it,” but it is my firm belief that teaching must be a natural act. It cannot be taught. I imagine that any administrator, or college education professor, reading this text is jumping out of their skin right now. Additionally, any parent reading may be thinking, “What kind of quack is this writer, thinking a teacher could control and teach my child without being taught to teach.” So, explanation is needed.
A teacher is a teacher at heart. You have it, or you don’t. It is not that you should jump in without any schooling or preparation (which is illegal in the U.S. anyway), but your purpose in being there should be in you in the beginning. My last student teacher comprehended this idea. She was a natural. She took the bat, stepped up to the plate, and swung with a free flowing follow-through that was, without a doubt, a homerun. She felt the mood of the classes, saw the future of each student, and anticipated the rises and falls that may take place in a typical day. There is no hesitation, no quandary, no question. She was supposed to be there. A teacher. Does she still need to complete her student teaching and her college courses? Absolutely. She needs to learn methods and skills to practice with her students. She needs to hear the ideas of others. She needs to see the hope and dreams that others also have for the success of the children placed in our care. She needs to learn.
Now please do not think that I am one of those happy all the time teachers that create a glow through the building as they click through the halls with a bright smile or a pleasant word for everyone, but I do love being at my place. It’s where I feel most “at home” and where I get my energy. It is my sanctuary, but also my asylum, which is another reason I want to share my experiences and ideas to help others walk an easier path. Moreover, I don’t just want to pass on my own ideas, but I will also divulge all the great secrets disclosed to me from all the incredible teachers I have met in my life. After all, teaching is all about learning, and I like to learn from the best. It’s like writing a cookbook without considering the input of Julia Child or Emeril or the newest ingredients of the Food Network’s Top Chef. What works should be shared and passed on to help those that come after us.
So what does all this have to do with expecting excellence? We must first expect it from ourselves. Once we've accomplished that, setting high expectations for students will be easy! And the more direct answer was in the subheading...Teach without excuses from the students or from yourself.