Defining the art or science of teaching is an unattainable goal because teachers perform their job under various titles and wear an infinite number of hats. Semantics aside, teaching is universal in nature, according to Jennifer Lees.
Diversity and commonality
To many, myself included, teaching is not just a job; it’s an identity. I became a teacher after a short, much-hated career in corporate America. My teaching career began at a university and continued in pre-kindergarten. I then taught secondary courses in schools within an affluent suburb, extremely diverse low-income urban schools and a high income, small, rural private school. As a petite white female in America’s south, teaching in an urban school was a culture shock. I was usually the only white person in a room, which can be a complicated social dynamic to navigate in a region still facing racial tension. Friends and family imagined I walked into “Dangerous Minds” every day but the experience was vastly different. It provided a beautiful view of how people overcome adversity and are brilliant for it.
After years of loving the challenges, community and students of urban environments, I moved to a small rural private school with wealthy students and little diversity. I thought this environment would be completely different but I was mistaken. Both groups of students lacked basic academic skills like how to take notes, study effectively, complete homework or manage a rigorous course. Prior courses had not prepared them and parents gave little help. I should acknowledge some differences. The private school didn’t run out of resources, which was a real issue in urban schools where we would run out of paper before the end of the school year. Class ratios differed greatly with approximately 32:1 in the urban schools and 6:1 in the private school. The smaller classes had a few benefits but often hindered learning because of a lack of varying ideas. None of these differences truly altered the essence of teaching.
The essence of teaching
In each of these environments teachers claimed that if they had a certain type of student, certain resources or different administration their job would be so much easier. The truth is, it’s rarely easy, rarely appreciated to the extent it deserves, rarely supported enough and definitely not understood by outsiders. We love teaching and we hate teaching! We love it for the students, the creative outlet and strategizing. We hate it for the hours, stress and bureaucratic nonsense. What makes the job easier is understanding that the essence of it is the same no matter how much money is available, how involved parents are, how intelligent students are or how effectively leadership performs. Students have similar struggles, desires, fears, and capabilities everywhere. Teaching is early mornings, late nights and emotional, exhausting days. It is planning, designing, creating, evaluating, researching and prepping to deliver quality lessons and support every student academically, emotionally, and intellectually. It is avoiding the bureaucratic distractions, begging for appropriate parental support and combating society’s claims that, “Those that can’t do, teach”. Let us not forget the whirlwind of education fads that are supposed to revolutionize the world of education but seem to fall out of practice after a short time.
If you can internalize the universal nature of teaching, your focus can shift to students and enjoying what you love about teaching. No matter the environment, teaching is one generally under-supported, passionate, dedicated adult attempting to impart knowledge, skills and understanding on the unsuspecting but frequently amenable youth.
Jennifer has served as a secondary teacher in America for over 7 years in a wide variety of school types, student demographics and course levels. She is the CEO of Parlees Consulting, specializing in education, organizational communication and crisis/disaster communication. She is passionate about international education, equality in educational opportunities and the significance of communication in all areas of life.
This article originally appeared in International Teacher Magazine (ITM), and is reproduced by kind permission of the publishers, Consilium Education.For more articles in ITM, please see www.consiliumeducation.com/itm