Thursday, January 19, 2012

To Anyone Looking to Get Into Teaching: Stay Right Where You Are, and Keep Going.

by Sean Wheeler
photo by flickr user Rickydavid

I'm fortunate to know and work with a growing list of pre-service teachers.  Whether they are just getting into their first education classes, or about to enter their first day on the job, they all have an expectation that their life is about to change.  They occupy a unique mid-position between being a student and being a teacher.  They're a bit of both and not wholly either.  This post is addressed to them.

First of all, thank you.  Thank you for taking the time to really think about teaching and learning.  Hopefully your classes are great, your professors are amazing, and your classmates are as excited about all of this as you are.  I hope you have had the opportunity to be engaged by different teaching philosophies, to sort through your own educational experiences and beliefs, and have begun to develop your own approach.  It's going to be great.

As I said, you occupy a great place in your life right now.  But most importantly, you are at a moment in which you occupy two distinct positions within a framework that will come to dominate the rest of your career.  The difference between being a teacher and being a student will hover over everything that your class will accomplish or fail to accomplish every day that you walk in the door.  The tendency, I think, after awhile, is to walk in that door more as a teacher than as a student each time you do it.  The gulf between student and teacher, which in the case of the pre-service teacher doesn't exist, tilts increasingly towards the latter as we get more comfortable with "the way things are" and "what we do".  It happens.

But I'm challenging you to go a different route.  When you end your time as a student-teacher, try to forge an identity as a student/teacher.  This is less about seeing the world through the eyes of your students, and more about seeing the profession of teaching from the perspective of a student studying teaching.

Right now you are wondering whether or not it's going to work like you hope it will.  You are open to suggestions, willing to learn, keenly observant, and eager to work with your students.  Stay that way.  Don't lose that critical eye, those thoughtful ambitions.  Be a bit bold and ready to take on the challenges and rewards that this amazing field is going to bring your way.

It really is more hard than easy.   There's something alluring to being up front and in charge.  There's a great comfort in teaching what we know in the way that we know it.  After the first few years things start to become more automatic.  You get used to being referred to by your last name.  You begin to rely less on what you've recently learned and more on what your experience shows.  Change, of all things, starts to slow down to an easy series of minor adjustments and begrudgingly approached initiatives.  It's been the typical trajectory of every generation of teachers that have come before you.  We start eager, we find our niche,  and we settle in to a series of oscillations that move between the beauty of learning and the frustrations that stem from seemingly everywhere.

I'm hoping you begin to swim the other way on this trend.  You are living in the midst of one of the greatest revolutions in human capacity for learning and thought that has ever existed before.   You know this.  You've been told it all of your lives.  The only thing that we now know for sure is that we're in for some big changes in the way the world operates.  And education, now more than ever, is in dire need of some serious reflection, criticism, and enthusiasm for the unknown challenges that lie ahead.  Anyone going into education right now is going to have a career that will necessitate an expectation that change is going to be a constant.  The new information and communication landscape is wide-open, and if we're going to succeed as a profession, we're going to need you.  We're going to need you to keep being a student as much as you are a teacher.  Keep the distance between learning and teaching at a minimum, and move forward through your career ready to learn, grow, and embrace new ideas and ways to do things.  Let people see you learn.  Let them teach you as well.  Keep working on your voice.  Just like now.

Stay right where you are, and keep going.


  1. I think the fundamental & universal attribute of great teachers is that they love to learn. Student teacher is not an oxymoron. (I plan to be a student teacher forever.)

  2. This is really motivating, thank you!

  3. I find myself right in that spot you mentioned. This is great advice! I think that Dr. Maria Montessori did just this she stayed a student, a critical observer and thinker, and consequently left a positive permanent mark on education as seen by the numbers of Montessori schools throughout the world.