Teachers often learn the hard way that weaknesses in our personal lives can carry over to our teaching styles. The good news is that the skills and strengths that we had before we started waking up at 5 AM are still there, also. Consider your answers to the questions below as you try to channel your personal strengths into classroom success.
What are your interests outside of school?
Being well versed in your subject and in instructional strategies is important, but it’s also important to be well rounded. The activities you do in your free time offer clues to the types of above-and-beyond moves that will recharge you instead of draining your energy. As a fourth grade teacher, I was able to motivate students by promising a short caricature lesson at the end of the day. This was a skill I had learned during a summer job in college, found relaxing, and was eager to share with my students. Other teachers have sparked enthusiasm by playing guitar in class, or sponsoring clubs based on common interests.
What are your “disinterests?”
Extra effort can pay off, but beware of signing on to spend personal time on activities you hate. As an un-athletic, uncoordinated person with negative memories of childhood sports, I realized too late it was a bad idea to start a fourth grade soccer team. It turns out that coaching team sports not only involved standing in the sun for hours, but also scheduling games, ordering uniforms, getting insurance, and trying to get the kids to stop arguing over whether a play was fair – which was surprisingly hard to do when everything you know about a sport comes from a For Dummies guidebook. Extra curricular volunteer activities should never feel like more of a chore than your actual job requirements.
What personal challenges have you overcome?
No need to rewrite your college admissions essay here. Just remember the hurdles you cleared growing up make you a role model for students charting their own courses. These can include huge obstacles like health problems and poverty, but also kid-level issues like not making the cheerleading squad. A teacher who overcame shyness may have a few extra insights to offer kids with stage fright before a class presentation. Teachers who struggled in a given subject area may have more patience for slow starters, or even step-by-step tricks that the naturals never had to learn. Plus, when teaching becomes a challenge in itself, it helps to remember you have beaten the odds before.
What made you think you would be a good teacher in the first place?
Try to think past the basic “I love kids” answer. After all, there are days as a new teacher when you’re not sure you love kids as much as you thought you did. But also, the traits that make an effective teacher sometimes contradict each other: ambition and patience, humor and sensitivity, creativity and structure. There is no recipe for a perfect teacher, so work with the ingredients you have. If you are creative, work an artistic spin into your lessons and classroom setup. If you are computer savvy, set up a class website. Be realistic about your strengths, though. It is not in anyone’s best interest to start a half-hearted art project or a website that sits neglected in cyber-space collecting cyber-dust and guilt. Adapt your classroom routines to let you be the kind of teacher you hoped to be, and you may remember that you do love kids after all. At least most of the time.
© 2015, Roxanna Elden