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5 Things Teacher College Never Told you

Dear New Teacher: teacher college information
Things teacher college never told you

There are many things teacher college didn't tell you - here I'll outline the 5 things I wish teacher college had told me to prepare me for my teaching career!

When I started teacher college, I recall being told "Don't smile for the first month of teaching."

Aaaanndd then it was another year of theory and pedagogy with very few practical tools or advice. Even a practicum, which is, by its very definition, a "practical" section of a course, is a completely inauthentic experience. We are encouraged to teach just like whoever is assigned as our supervising teacher. We make mistakes, and we're assessed on those mistakes, and we're not in a position to challenge the school culture, status-quo, or develop our own method of classroom management, since many classrooms we step into already have an established expectation.

This could not be further from an authentic teaching experience.

When you walk in on the first day of school to your own room, with students who are meeting you for the first time, in a space perhaps neither of you have stepped into before, you aren't in another teacher's shadow (for worse or better), and you get to create the feel and culture of your room with your own style.

*This* is the first thing I wish they'd told me in teacher college.

1. "Your practicum? Yeah, it's a great way to gain experience and test unit plans, but it's not really the real-deal yet."

I became a completely different teacher after my practicum than I was when I was on practicum, in spite of having fantastic supervising teachers! Though I know many incredible teachers who nearly failed their practicum due to a disconnect between themselves and their supervisor.

Allow yourself to see your practicum for what it is - learning to be someone else's definition of a good teacher, and take note of what you do and do not agree with. I recommend keeping a journal, taking note of what did and did not actually work for you, or ways you had to compromise to run a class or teach a lesson the way someone else expected. When you start with your own class, refer to your journal and try it your way! Don't let yourself get swept up in habitual practices learned from another teacher.

Spoiler alert: Practicum assessment, much like every other kind of assessment, is subjective!

That brings me to the next thing I wish teacher college would have told me.

2. Assessment is subjective!

Teacher college often forgets to tell you how complicated assessment truly is - and remember, it's not a one size fits all approach! You are not better or worse than your colleagues simply because a student performs better or worse in your class! There are a myriad of factors that lead to student success, and the curriculum and your means of formative and summative assessment is not the bottom line!

Things such as relationship, who else is in the class, and the key points on an essay/exam you find relevant vs. another teacher are all things that contribute to student success and the subjectivity of a class.

I remember in my first contract when I was teaching English 10-12, I was constantly comparing myself to another, more senior English teacher. She was getting greater student output and overall "success" than me. I couldn't understand why, until I subbed her class. I realized that her expectation for an essay was different than mine. She valued quantity over quality. Her method was "write more, write better." And she wasn't wrong! By the end of the year students *wrote better!* My method was, "write one, write it again and again, until it's better and you can move on." So of course my output altered from hers. Of course I had students who may have started the year off with a lower overall percentage. But in the end, we had similar results!

Which method is better? Well, that's subjective.

3. Just because you're young doesn't mean you don't know what you're doing.

Ageism in teaching is real! I was 20 years old on my first teaching practicum, and 21 with my first classroom. I had a ton of people coming and telling all the ways I was doing it wrong. But guess what? Kids liked my classes and they were learning.

I remember having a conflict with a senior teacher, and in the end, after wracking my brain trying to find out why she didn't like me, I realized it came down to the fact that she thought age and competence were the same thing. Fewer years on this planet meant fewer skills. We all know this is not the case. Do you improve with experience? Certainly! But you need space to find out what works best for you and why, and just because you do it differently later, doesn't mean you did it wrong the first time! (You might want to read that last part again...)

4. You have rights.

It feels like teacher college prepares you to be berated and tells you all the horror stories of being a teacher. From the mistreatment by parents, to the mistreatment by admin, there is no shortage of ways you'll be told you suck. And yes, this happens sometimes (though I feel far less frequently than teacher college led me to believe...) However, even though teacher college *tells* you "the worst is yet to come" they don't actually prepare you for how to deal with it.

If you have a supportive admin, you can forward parent complaints to them. If you don't, find another teacher to commiserate with and have them craft the response with you - you don't need to come from a place of emotion. Less is more with reactionary parents. And if all else fails, if you're part of a union, report abuse to the union. Workers in most other professions (read I said "most"... I know of retail and service industry horror - that's where I started) have workers labour rights that ensure both physical and emotional safety in the workplace. Seek out what these supports look like for you, and don't be shy! Use them when/if you need!

5. It's okay to say no.

Alright, I'm still learning how to do this, but does anyone else remember in teacher college, as you prepare for your practicum, the endless reminders to "get involved"??? Now I both agree with, and understand the encouragement to learn the school culture and establish yourself in a school. Of course this is important; however, this sets a dangerous precedent early on in your career. After your practicum, it's easy to fall into a routine where you feel the only way to stay relevant at your school is to be the person doing all the things.

I get this feeling whole-heartedly, and after 10 years, I still fall for this and I often do all the things. But you can be relevant, loved, and an incredible teacher, doing just the things you enjoy and *want* to do! Do you want to chaperone the annual Spring Fling? Do it! Do you loathe being out past 7, but love walking the halls at lunch to see kids relaxing, hanging out, and socializing? This is also a great way to be visible without sacrificing your time.

With that said, we know that teachers are expected to go above and beyond, and many of the events students love wouldn't happen without teachers willing to give up some evenings or weekends. But we don't have to give up every evening or weekend. It's okay to say no.

6. You don't need to reinvent the wheel to be a good, creative, and engaging teacher!

Teacher college was great at teaching unit development and assessing our unit plans for inventiveness and creativity. For years I felt if I didn't create the resource myself, I was "lazy" or I wasn't creative, and I worried that I wasn't staying on top of curriculum planning in a way that would be meaningful to students. I have since learned that you do NOT need to create new resources to still deliver those materials in your own, creative way! You can borrow from other teachers and adapt to make them your own! Or, just use other's resources exactly as is, and don't give it another thought! A well rested teacher is an inventive and available teacher, and let's face it, it's not always possible to both plan your own curriculum and get 8 hours of sleep a night... trust me, you should sacrifice the curriculum planning when you need to.

Overall, teacher college is great at giving us insights into the ideals of the profession, overviews of the challenges, and developing our own pedagogy, but there's a reason teachers graduate from this lengthy and challenging program, only to leave the profession a few years later - teacher college misses the boat in a lot of ways!

What other things do you wish teacher college taught you? Let me know in the comments below!


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