After Three Decades of Teaching, A Letter to My Aspiring-Teacher Self
I see you sitting at your desk hovering over a pile of college brochures with that deer-in-headlights look on your face. I know... you want to be a teacher... more than anything. You knew in sixth grade that teaching was your calling. You remember your teacher and how mean and disrespectful she was to her students and the way she made you feel. You knew right then, something wasn't right. Teachers should empower kids, inspire them and give them the tools they need to not only survive in their world but to succeed and, yes, be proud of themselves.
I know that's what you're thinking. How? I know because I am--well was--you.
Here I sit, 29 years into my teaching career, and as I look back at everything from my choice in college to my incredible career, I want to let you in on a few Must Do's and Please Don'ts.
Let's begin with those colleges you're trying to choose from. Dina, PAY ATTENTION TO THIS. It is not all apples and roses out there in the teacher education world. Unfortunately, there are many--way too many--programs where getting a degree in education is an easy A. There are many programs that don't require you to do your student teaching or even to be in a classroom until the final semester of your senior year.
Ok.. here's the first Please Don't. Please don't choose any of those programs. Please do choose a program that has rigor, and demands intensity and the highest caliber of professors to lead you on your path to becoming a teacher. Choose a program that not just permits you, but EXPECTS you to be in a classroom from first semester, year one. Choose a program that teaches you the skills you need not just for 2016 but for 2030.
Aspiring-teacher Dina, you will need a toolbox--nowadays likely a virtual one (side note: the internet is awesome, you're going to love it someday)--that is of infinite capacity. Please do choose a program that fills that toolbox constantly and with demanding assignments, experiences and a rigorous curriculum. Trust me when I say, it will be extremely beneficial to you over your career. Choose a program that encourages you to learn about education policy on the federal, state and local level and teaches you how to use technology in the classroom. You will eventually know how to Tweet, Instagram and Facebook, but you absolutely must learn how and when to use technology as it gains momentum in the classroom (also, 30-years-ago Dina: consider buying stocks in Apple).
Please choose a program that shows you how to find curriculum. There are amazing sites that you can use to find lessons, ideas and inspiration on everything you could ever want to teach. You must know how to navigate these resources. No one ever teaches this... and it's so important.
Dina, you're making a great choice. Teaching is a noble profession. It is an iconic profession. Well, it should be. We're working on transforming it to be the best it can possibly be every day.
Please do your research when finding this program and the college you want to attend. Make sure it is high-quality. Make sure it will equip you with the powerful teaching knowledge you'll need.
I wish I knew these things three decades ago. Some I didn't learn until very late in my career. Step into the classroom with a toolbox that is filled with what you need.
And Dina... one last thing. You're going to love teaching. Trust me.
Yourself (just a bit older and wiser)
About the Author: Dina Rock is currently in her 29th year of teaching in the classroom. She has taught students across grade levels in both the public and independent schools. Dina has taught in Los Angeles and currently teaches 5th grade language arts and social studies in Cleveland, Ohio. Seven years ago, Dina began work with Hope Street Group on teacher engagement and teacher evaluation systems. Dina has worked with the National Council on Teacher Quality's Teacher Advisory Group since 2013 where she collaborates with others on improving the quality of teacher prep programs across the country.