You can't be any other teacher, but the one you are comfortable with - and that's you!
My first teaching job was a Special Education middle school teacher in an urban public therapeutic day school. All of my students lived in poverty and all were diagnosed with mental health disorders. Despite the odds being stacked against me, I was excited to be a teacher. My excitement didn’t even wain when I greeted my 16-year-old eighth graders who towered at least a foot above me at the classroom door the first morning!
My kiddos were tough. They tested me every day. There were fist fights in the classroom, one handed tossing of desks across the room in anger, and plans of suicide shared with me weekly.
I was being given a lot of advice from the other teachers in the school: “Do this”, “Don’t do that”, “I do it this way”, “This is the way you should do it”, “You shouldn’t do that.” It was all well intentioned, but it made me feel like I was doing something wrong. I couldn’t fail these kids, but my all wasn’t enough I thought.
I started to listen to the advice, and I tried most of it. I raised my voice. I didn’t let my students move a muscle without permission. But the classroom seemed to be getting worse. Then, one day I realized that the reason none of it was working was because it wasn’t me. I went home that night and pulled out the philosophy of education I had written during my student teaching:
“I believe that each child is a unique individual who needs a supportive, stimulating environment in which to grow and develop emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially to fully self-actualize, become a lifelong learner, and develop into a productive, respectful citizen of the world.
I believe that educational communities should address student academic and social-emotional learning as critical factors to the introduction of college and career readiness standards, with the ultimate goal of creating deep critical thinking skills.
Every student can achieve. It is our responsibility to teach students strategies and skills that match their learning style in order to help them become independent learners.”
And then, I wrote down my favorite teaching quote by Ignacio Estrada, an educational consultant, onto an index card that I continue to teach by:
“If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
The next day, I walked into my classroom and placed that quote on my desk, and became me as a teacher! My teaching transformed and my classroom and students thrived. We became a family of learners who trusted, respected and supported each other!
I lived and breathed that classroom. Some days I left feeling like a failure, but I never gave up and I started each day with a positive outlook.
So...moral of the story...be the best version of you as a teacher!
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