The 3 Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Teaching

It’s been a little over a month since I took the plunge, quit my office job, and started spending my days in the classroom. Most days have been really good. I won’t pretend I’m not tired. Working with kids all day is exhausting (and I’m not even a lead teacher!). But it’s also significantly more rewarding, and the petty things that used to stress me out during the workday no longer exist.

My student teaching experience has also been much more rewarding than I ever thought it would be. Being surrounded by experienced teachers who support you makes you feel more comfortable and less afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. I’ve discovered so many new things this past month, and wanted to take a moment to reflect on the three biggest realizations I’ve had about teaching thus far.

Deadlines don’t really exist

When I worked in the corporate world, all my projects had deadlines. I knew what I had to do and when I had to finish it, and could always count on a feeling of completion when a project was done. Though teachers do need to cover specific content in a certain amount of time throughout the school year, I’ve learned that things are a little more fluid.

For example, you might have planned two days’ worth of activities that revolve around character traits or rounding decimals, but when the two days are up, you’re not necessarily done teaching those concepts. Upon assessment, you might find out that some students don’t understand what you just taught. You’ll have to figure out how to spend more time on those concepts while you’re moving on to new content that needs to be taught. It’s a balancing act for sure, and it can be easy to get frustrated when you can’t cross something off your to-do list.

You will have bad lessons

Last week while I was implementing a word study lesson, a student correctly identified the word sake (as in, “for my own sake”) among a random assortment of letters. For some reason, my brain just stalled, and I told her that sake was not a real word. The students quickly corrected me, but the rest of the lesson kind of went downhill from there. I felt disorganized and discombobulated. My supervising teacher assured me that it was normal to have bad lessons, but I still felt disappointed in myself.

I can tell when I screw something up. I can see when I’ve confused a whole classroom of students. It’s not a good feeling, and it’s something that I don’t think will necessarily go away with experience. Sometimes you’re just off. The important thing is how you react and rebound. Rather than dwelling on the mistakes that I make, I shake it off and try to quickly readdress the concepts I might have jumbled the first time to prevent any lasting student misconceptions.

It’s OK to say ‘I don’t know’

I’m teaching concepts now that I initially studied years ago. Explaining a concept to someone when you’ve just relearned it yourself is not always easy, and you aren’t always going to know the answer to students’ questions. I used to talk around this and try to divert students’ attention, but a couple weeks ago I just started admitting that I don’t know. It’s incredibly liberating, and I think it’s actually more beneficial to the students.

First, this shows students that you’re human and learning new things, just like they are. Additionally, you’re providing a realistic view of learning by showing them how to answer questions and solve problems. All of my graduate class professors have stressed the importance of allowing students to arrive at a conclusion themselves through inquiry and experience, and giving them the opportunity to help you understand something is a great way to encourage higher-level thinking.

Finally, this gives students the opportunity to demonstrate what they know. If you don’t know the answer to something, ask if other students in the class do. Chances are, someone has an idea they are more than willing to share, and this shows the kids that they can use one another as resources.

Lisandra I. Flynn spent 2012 to 2014 working toward a master’s degree in elementary education while working full time as an editor. After seven years in publishing, she recently transitioned from corporate life to student teach fifth grade in an elementary school. Flynn shares her journey from the office to the classroom and offers insight and advice to those seeking their own career change.