When I began teaching, I walked into a wonderful English department full of absolutely incredible teachers. I was passionate and eager (and fighting my introverted nature like a champ), but when school rolled around, reality set in: Even with a few things working in my favor, I had zero minutes of teaching experience under my belt.
No student teaching. No subbing. No nothing. Nada. Zero minutes.
Down the hall in every direction, though, teachers seemed to be making the magic happen.
One teacher could make such meaningful connections with her students quicker than anyone I’ve ever seen and never, ever got rattled in class. It was almost unbelievable.
Another teacher would get 18 year old, high school senior, “I’m too cool for this” types to dance around a little “fire” she created in her room (because, of course you do this when you study Macbeth). Equally impressive.
Another taught AP English with what seemed like encyclopedic knowledge of the texts the class studied. Surely he had someone feeding him information as class was progressing, right?
Then there was the teacher who was a master storyteller with a wealth of knowledge and a gift for imparting that to students, and the teacher with the drive to take on delicate discussions about the power of our words. Don’t forget the teacher who could get more growth out of sophomores in one year than most great teachers hope could hope to see in two years and the teacher could flip from working with honors freshmen to on level seniors throughout her day. And there was the teacher who could teach expectations to any student (and actually get them to live those out).
It’s still a little crazy when I look back on it and realize that these descriptors aren’t exaggerations. In fact, I’m sure I’m selling them short. This was (and still is) a fantastic place to teach.
But from where I sat as a new teacher, it all seemed so easy for them and so difficult for me. As a result, I spent a lot of time working hard to make it look like I didn’t have to work hard at teaching.
That’s not exactly time well spent.
As I got to know these master teachers who taught in the English halls, I realized how much they had invested on the front end. As it turns out, developing teenagers into thoughtful readers and writers doesn’t always happen all that easily. What had looked like effortless perfection was really the result of years of work developing expertise at their craft.
I’d love to say that by Thanksgiving of that first year I figured this out. I didn’t. It took a lot of time and a lot of letting go of my pride (because, arrogantly, I initially thought that I would just put in the work and fake it til I made it as one who “taught effortlessly” like these others).
So why am I writing this?
If you’re an educator, it can feel like you don’t have enough to give. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t need to be perfect, and (in all likelihood) you can’t maintain being perfect for very long if at all. It’s not an attainable goal.
What I perceived to be perfection in those teachers was really the result of a great group of teachers who were determined to be good to their students and to their colleagues.
Go forth and be good.