things they don't tell you about teaching

16 Things They Don’t Tell You About Teaching

You know, there are some things that I’d really like to tell you as a teacher, some things I wish that somebody had told me.

1. Teaching is Hard

The first thing that nobody ever really told me is just how hard it is to teach. There are days where I’m tired before first period even starts, and I wonder how I’m going to do it. But then somehow by third or fourth period, I actually have more energy than I did at the beginning. And then at the end of the day, and I come home, and I’m just falling asleep by 5:00, because it’s so exhausting.

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2. Becoming a Great Teacher Takes Time

The other thing they don’t tell you is that teachers sometimes can’t come into a classroom and wave a magic wand and just be an amazing teacher. It takes time to earn trust and develop relationships.

But when you develop that trust and you build those relationships, then you get a reputation. And if that reputation is awesome, it actually makes it easier to teach the next year, because you get a reputation for being fair, for being kind, for giving kids the benefit of the doubt, for loving kids.

You can’t hide who you are.

3. You Can Change

But I’ll also tell you, because I royally screwed up that first two or three years. I mean, I think every mistake in the book that you could make — I probably made.

You CAN turn it around. You can do better if you realize that you’ve messed up, because it does take a while to build those relationships.

You have to relate before you can educate.

4. Problems Can Grow Your Wisdom

The other thing they don’t tell you is how wisdom is grown in the fertile soil of problems and mess-ups. If you actually learn from your mistakes, you’ll be a better teacher tomorrow. I think one of the things that had shocked me the most though is that if you stop learning, you could be a worse teacher after 20 years than five. This was actually mentioned on one of our shows. And it just kind of blew me away. In fact, it scares me.

I just finished my 15th year of teaching. And the thought that if I don’t intentionally learn, innovate like a turtle, like I always say, then I can actually become a worse teacher over time.

5 – Your Attitude Changes Everything You Do

Another thing is that your attitude can either be like acid or sweet tea. Whatever you soak in either makes you sweeter or it makes you sour. Now, you know, some teachers think that they can go in the teacher’s lounge and they can just vent, they can trash students on the lunch table, and then they can turn around in their classroom and they can just be all “pumpkin pie.”

It doesn’t work that way.

Your attitude comes out.

6 – You Get What You Expect – So Expect Greatness

Well, you get what you expect. Whatever you believe you receive. So I expect amazing things from my students, and I really guard my heart from that negativity. And you know what; sometimes, there are people that I have to avoid because they are so negative. And when I get negative, I hope I have good enough friends that will say,

“Okay, Vicki, that’s enough; you’re getting negative.”

Because that attitude determines everything. It just rolls off you. People can almost smell it. What is your attitude? If your attitude was a smell, what would it be?

7 – Teaching is a Sacrifice Made By the Whole Family

I think another thing I wish somebody had told me (and my Mom tried to because she was a teacher) but teaching is a sacrifice made by the whole family. We know in April and May that we have to let the “rough end drag.” And my husband knows it too.

He does more laundry in May (now, don’t go fussing at your husbands or your wives) but he does do more laundry in May than really any time of the year. We know that it’s going to be hard, because it’s not just the teacher that makes the sacrifice. My husband sacrifices part of me for me to choose this profession.

We also sacrifice monetarily. Most of us could earn more money outside the classroom, but I’ll tell you this; I can never have more of a legacy than I earn in the classroom with my students, and that’s hard.

8 – Motivational Speakers Can't “Fix” Your Struggles – You Have to Stay Grounded

I think another thing that you have to remember, especially as you go to conferences, is that no motivational speaker can fix the hurt and pain, but learning is important anyway.

You know, people want the magic bullet; they want to have the perfect tool. They want to have “the” perfect thought. They want to have something perfect to just fix it and make all the hurt and pain of teaching in the classroom go away. Well, you can’t. I mean, the only thing that I have is I get up every morning and pray for about an hour, hour and a half. If I didn’t pray and have my quiet time, I couldn’t be a teacher; honestly, I couldn’t, because I’m called to it. And I need that encouragement in my heart so that I can make it.

And I love motivational, exciting speakers, but it just can’t fix the struggle.

9 – Not Everybody Who Tells You How To Teach – Can Teach

There are also a lot of people who tell you how to teach who can’t. And I’m always really skeptical when I listen to certain people and I’m like, “oh.” My teacher alarm bell goes off and I’m like,

“Okay; I’m not going to be skeptical, I’m not going to be that acid, negative attitude. But you know what; this doesn’t really measure up.”

10 – An Excited Teacher is a Powerful Force in Any Classroom

But here’s a thing; some people get excited about “thing,” and the stuff they’re excited about doesn’t work, but they have an improvement in the classroom.

And what they don’t realize is that the excitement is actually what’s working. So I don’t have any problem with getting excited about things in the classroom, because that excitement rubs off. But it’s really hard to measure how much of your classroom is improving because you’re actually excited about something, for a change.

This is why I think it’s important for teachers to pick the tools that they want to pick. Because when you’re excited about it, just that simple excitement is going to help things. It’s going to help them try harder. It’s going to help them try to make it work.

And when you force – you can’t push somebody up a ladder — when you force something on somebody, you’re automatically kind of pulling away from that excitement.

11 – You Teach With Your Life

You can teach more with your life than you can with your lips. And you have to be really careful the things that you transmit to your students with your life. Because what you believe and who you are shows in how you treat them every day.

If you mess up and you have a bad day, and you go to a student, you say,

“You know what; I am so sorry”

that can help.

I did my end-of-the-year surveys, and I just had one student who didn’t identify which class they were in or anything, and they said,

“You know what; I really felt disrespected.”

Well, I don’t know who the student was; I don’t know what class where the apology is needed. So you know what I did; I apologized to all my classes. I said that

“There’s one of you in here who felt very disrespected, I don’t know which class you’re in,”

and I gave my heartfelt apology; because I want them to know that I care about working for them and being their teacher and loving them.

12 – Tears Can Birth Triumph

I think also, nobody told me that my greatest triumphs are actually born out of my midnight tears. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a student where you laid awake at night and you literally cried and you were upset about that student in what was going on. You prayed or you were just worried;

“How am I going to go through this?” or

“How am I going to work through this?”

And when you work through, when you fight back and you rebelieve in that child, as my friend Kevin Honeycutt says, you can actually make a difference in the life of that child.

And those are the greatest triumphs.

Those are the kids that you cry at their graduation and you stand up and applaud, those are the kids that you remember the years later; because you remember the tears and you also remember the triumph. Now, the tears just give you kind of a greater contrast. It’s a deeper valley that kind of contrasts against that big, tall mountain.

13 – You'll Be Misjudged and Misunderstood

I think one of the other things that I wish that somebody had told me is that we get misjudged. We get hurt. People sometimes don’t trust our motives. And it may be something that they’re carrying with them, and we don’t really know why.

But that’s one of the most hurtful things, is when you’re judged. And sometimes you just have to let it be and do your best to make it right. But you just truly have to live with that conscience of your own or, as I say, you work for an audience of One. So if I’m at peace with God about it, I just have to move on with it.

14 – You Can't Take Back Words Once They Are Said

But you can’t take back words once you’ve said them. There are things that can shatter relationships. And you should really guard those relationships and be careful.

There are times at the beginning of class that I’ll apologize at the beginning. I’ll say,

“You know what; guys, I’m tired, I’m fussy, I’m just warning you, I am doing my best. But for whatever reason, (I was up grading all night or whatever; I got somebody sick in my family or whatever it is.)”

I’m just usually open and honest. And it just kind of lets everybody relax. But you know what I found; my kids will come in and tell me the same thing. They’ll say,

“You know what; ‘Miss' Vicki, I was up all night. I have a new baby sister and she screamed all night, and I’m worn out.”

And those are important things to know.

15 – Sending Kids to the Office Can Make It Worse

Also, sending a kid to the office sometimes can make your problem worse. I mean, I so rarely send kids to the office now; I just don’t need to, because I kind of want to nurture and handle that whole relationship.

So be careful. There are times to send a kid to the office, but there’s also a time to own it. If a kid acts out of character, address what’s really wrong. A lot of times, I’ll say,

“You know what; this is not you today. What’s up with you? Because this is not you; I refuse to believe this is who you are. So what’s going on?”

And they’ll usually tell you what it is. And then you can just kind of put the behavior aside as inappropriate and actually deal with the real problem, and actually build trust.

16 – How I Love My Students

Now, even with all of these difficulties and all of these problems and all these things people don’t tell you about teaching, I’ll tell you the one big thing. They don’t tell you just how much it means when that child writes you a note or they sit at your desk and they say, you changed my life; you made a difference; you believed in me when nobody else did. Kids will give me little presents here and there and they’ll give me little things, and you’ll never know who that kid is. But when they come back and they hug me and they say,

“Thank you; I was so mad at you that day but you made me do this,” or

“You encouraged me to do that.”

And you know what; there are the hard days. There are the midnight tears. There are the painful things.

But when you actually persist and be the adult and make a difference in kids’ lives, I’m going to tell you something; as hard as it is for me to say this, I give up money in the bank every day to do this job because I love my students.

And how I feel about them is something nobody could ever tell me.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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The Cool Cat Teacher Blog
Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere