The sounds of the school house at 7am are different. They aren’t the ones we usually think of: slamming of doors, lockers, the shuffling of students with over-sized backpacks, chit-chatter, gum popping, flirting.
There are noises. The sound of pump-up music being played low, the ripping of giant-pad paper, the moving of desks, wooden-heeled men’s and women’s shoes walking down the hall – the last few trips to the bathrooms – scratching of chalk on the board, the squeaking of marker on the whiteboard, papers being stapled. Preparations.
I never thought of the preparations that went in to my classes when I was in high school. I never considered all the little things my teachers did to make the classroom conducive to learning, all the little clues they put in to help our learning, how they set things up so that we learned behind our own backs – they made us think it was all our idea. They didn’t take credit for it. They never revealed their tricks.
I think about it now, now that I have begun teaching. I get giddy at the small ideas – a strategic poster, the ingenious worksheet, the lesson that will really make them think. I prepare my classes. Mostly I think about the lessons that my students will never remember, but will change their thinking forever. That lesson where my material just clicks for them, without them even realizing – the lesson that gives them an insight, and they’ll wonder later how they ever thought in any other way.
I don’t remember the lesson that taught me critical thinking, or questioning, or legitimate analysis, or the lesson that taught me to love learning for the sake of learning. I know which teachers taught it to me, but they taught me with inception. That is what I’m working towards – teaching students an attitude towards foreign language that will change their lives, an insight that will help them for the rest of their life, not just in the classroom. And just as it was for me in high school, they have to think it was all their idea.
It’s trite, but there is something to be said for walking in someone else’s shoes. I find myself having flashbacks to my high school classes, and in admiration of my teachers who juggled so much – who simultaneously disciplined, motivated, and taught – and for whom the juggling had become second nature. I’m still fumbling my way through the myriad techniques and styles and strategies.
I’m not trying to glorify the career simply because I am now part of it, but I know this: teaching is hard, and the best teachers make it look easy. Those teachers you had that you respected, that you thought were naturals as teachers – who either made you want to work or made you learn without feeling like you were working – those are the teachers who worked the hardest.