Try Before You Buy
You don’t know if you like something before you try it.
Then why is it that prospective teachers commit to months of training before stepping foot into a classroom? With no pay, mounting student bills, and a tsunami of insecurity due to inexperience, no wonder so many student teachers quickly change their major!
It’s quite disheartening. Especially to a new high school senior faced with the daily questions, “So you want to be a teacher? Are you sure? Are you good at teaching? Do you like it? You know teachers don’t make any money, right?”
My teaching career was nearly finished before it started.
But then the phone call came.
It was after 9:00 p.m. on a weekday just before the start of the school year. My Spanish instructor, Mrs. Schmitz, was calling to offer me a position as the Spanish teacher for over thirty students at a local homeschool co-op. I would have three classes every Wednesday with students ranging from 1st to 8th grade (with a 10th grader thrown in for good measure!). Was I willing?
¡Claro que sí!
What I Learned
1. Sometimes 90% of Teaching is Classroom Management
The rumors are true. Classroom management is a HUGE component of teaching, especially when it comes to elementary kids. Which brings up point number two…
2. Support is Essential
In my 2nd-4th grade class, I found that having an assistant in the room completely transformed the classroom environment. I was able to focus more on teaching the language, rather than constantly having to stop and address behavioral issues. I had several assistants over the year, but one in particular stood out as exceptional. She was admired by the kids, eager to learn Spanish herself, and not afraid to gently but firmly reprimand the students when their self-control was lacking.
In addition to support inside the classroom, I was blessed to receive encouragement and advice from the co-op’s administrator, from my mentor, and from my family. Eating a half dozen cookies could give me the sugar rush necessary to complete a lesson plan, but it took the support and validation of my community to give me the enduring energy to finish the year strong.
3. Verde=”Bear Day”
In the words of Shakespeare, “Imagination apprehends what reason cannot comprehend.” Jokes, mnemonics, and visuals are the way to help students latch onto what they are taught. The first week of class, I introduced the color green as a holiday. I glued a small green teddy bear to a calendar and “Bear Day” was born. It worked like magic.
4. Grading Homework is a Privilege
For this introductory class, students were not expected to complete any work at home. This made it difficult to keep track of how much my students were retaining on a weekly basis. This made lesson planning a challenge. I know most new teachers dread the stack of papers, but I’m looking forward to it.
5. Teach Grammar Subconsciously
Beginning students don’t need grammar rules, they need relevancy. I wish I had spent more time exposing the children to Spanish in context, rather than attempting to explain verb conjugations to first-graders, who could not even read their own language yet. (Sorry, my little pumpkins!)
6. Be a Good Example
My first-graders were initially flabbergasted that their parents would send them to a non-fluent 17-year-old from Ohio:
“Wait, you’re not even a real teacher yet?”
“Are you married? How old are you?”
“You’ve only studied Spanish for three years? Does that mean you speak Spanish like a three-year-old?”
“You must be from that state called Mexico, right?”
However, I think my passion for learning Spanish soon made up for my lack of experience. I set an example of what it means to be a learner, making it a point to regularly share with my students the ways I was working to improve my own fluency, be it through singing catchy Alex Zurdo songs or through acting out El Quixote.
7. Beauty and Purpose Make the Struggle Worthwhile
If there is one thing my experience as a teacher showed me, it is that mere vocabulary and mathematical formulas will never motivate students to press on when studying is tough. Because of this, my classes often discussed how the ability to speak Spanish opens doors to relationships, business, and ministry, and how the language is uniquely beautiful. It was the beauty and practicality of Spanish that kept the students motivated, and the beauty and purpose of teaching that captivated me all year long.
I am beyond grateful to all those who made this experiment possible. Because I “test-drove” teaching in high school, I can now pursue a college education with confidence. The journey may be difficult, but I know what is waiting on the other side, and it’s worth it.