You’re thinking right now about becoming a teacher. You were probably inspired by an amazing educator. Maybe it was a homeroom teacher who got you through a bad time in your life. Maybe it was the math teacher who stayed for hours after school to tutor you. Or maybe seeing an ALT in your classroom made you think about teaching Japanese abroad.
Whoever or whatever your inspiration, I wish you all the best in this endeavor. You’ll get through university and training, and someday enter a classroom. And let me tell you, all the training and education beforehand won’t be enough to prepare you for the reality. The real life classroom experiences will be tough, but there is no better way to becoming a teacher than jumping into it headfirst.
I will say though, although teaching is rewarding, it’s won’t be easy. Even after doing it for over six years, there will be days or classes or something that will present a challenge. You’ll have to overcome those challenges as they arrive. Nosebleeds, fights, bullying, meeting paper prep, Saturday work on top of overtime work (none of it paid), it’ll happen to you at some point. You’ll do what you can with the knowledge you’ve got, and that may or may not be enough.
I’ll tell you something no other teacher might: It’s okay to fail. It will hurt and it will be a tearful experience, but it’s okay if you can’t overcome every single one of those challenges. Just remember that you’re not alone. Lean on your co-workers, your fellow educators. They can help you when you need that help the most. And it’s not failing that will be the worst thing that can happen, but failing to learn from those past mistakes will be the ultimate failure. Learn from these errors so you can be a better teacher in the future.
When it comes to students, you’ll have to just love them as they are. You can try and try, but not all students will love you back. There will be times teaching will feel like the most thankless job (especially when you’re marking tests), but if you’re really meant to be a teacher you won’t do it to make students like you, you’ll do it because you want the best for the students.
And what’s best for them will always be a case-by-case basis. Each student is going to need a different approach to get through your class, and each kid will need different forms of encouragement or discipline. Don’t try to make all of them fit the same mold, it won’t work. Your students will have their own personalities, and it would be a mistake to try and change what makes them all unique.
There will be times you’ll wonder if you’re supposed to be a teacher at all. Maybe somebody else could do a better job than you are, maybe the students could benefit from someone with more experience/patience/knowledge/etc. All teachers at some point feel that way, or at least good teachers do, because good teachers are always thinking about how they could be doing better in and out of the classroom for their students.
Teaching is one of those jobs that requires a person give more of themselves, and it can get draining at times. You’ll spend your sick days coming into work no matter the temperature, slogging through the fever and the class hours until you can go home to pass out. After school hours will be spent with kids who couldn’t figure out the lesson or need to get a lecture, because you’ll care. All good teachers care, and because we care, we give too much of ourselves.
For those of you who would teach abroad, you’re giving up the security of your own home and native tongue to pursue a life in another language and culture. It will be scary at times, but usually it ends up being culturally exhausting. You’ll find yourself worn down over time, until you can take a break to return home for a couple of weeks. However, you’ll form bonds with your students and co-workers that are unique in circumstance that you wouldn’t have in your home country. These bonds, these moments, will keep you going.
If you’re going into teaching because you think it’ll be easy, something you can do to pass the time, you’ll never be happy in it. It’s a career that demands too much for you to just clock-in and clock-out. Students require more attention than spreadsheets and meetings, they require care, and you can’t cut off your heart and mind to students. You’re dealing with people, smaller and immature people, but people nonetheless. They will need your guidance, whether they realize it or not. If you come into a classroom ready for a simple job, teaching won’t meet that expectation.
Students who will be teachers, I hope you’ll see that I’m not trying to scare you away from the job. At the same time, I think it’s better to know now rather than later about what it all entails. You’ll be making worksheets, curriculum, checking tests, scoring, in between everything else I just talked about, but then there will be more that I won’t even know to cover. Every school is different and will expect different things from their teachers. All this work will be worth it to see your students improve, even if it is just a little bit.
And that’s all you can do, try your best to improve your students. You don’t need to inspire them to do something groundbreaking, you don’t need them to win medals or prizes, you just want them to be better today than they were yesterday. You’ll worry you didn’t do enough, or that you should’ve done more, but so long as your students do better by the end of your term with them, you’ve succeeded. It might not be your greatest success, but teaching is full of small and big successes. Celebrate all of them, hold them close, and never let go.