Academic journal article High School Journal

From Survival to Self-Actualization: Reflections on Teaching and Teacher Education

Academic journal article High School Journal

From Survival to Self-Actualization: Reflections on Teaching and Teacher Education

Article excerpt

As a college student in the early 60s, I actively resisted the idea of teaching. However, my father, who was paying all the bills, insisted that I take a few education courses as "insurance." After graduation, when my summer job at a softserve ice cream place was about to end, he reminded me that I was expected to pay room and board. So I quickly scrambled in late August to find a "real" job. There were not many options for liberal arts graduates other than teaching, but teachers were in such short supply that it was easy for any "warm body" to get hired--even without any student teaching. The superintendent didn't even see any problem in hiring me, with a B.A. in history and government, to teach high school English.

I now see that the historical context had a great deal to do with my career choice. At the time I entered the workplace, women, who weren't at home raising children, typically became secretaries, nurses, or teachers. Given that some of my female friends had to enroll at schools like Katherine Gibbs after graduation to learn the practical office skills needed to get jobs as secretaries, teaching seemed very desirable: higher status, no additional training required. Though I may describe myself as an "accidental teacher," the truth is that my career was in large measure determined by the context of that time.

Young women, who have many options today, must want to teach, and, unlike me, they must be prepared to do so. Higher standards for beginning teachers and fewer jobs have made teaching as a career more competitive. As any experienced teacher knows, however, there is no way one can be fully prepared for dealing with the complexities of teaching. Translating theory into classroom practice is a challenge in any context--there are some important aspects of teaching that can be learned only through painful experience. It helps, though, to have someone point the way. By reflecting on my own professional life, I have learned new ways to understand my own circuitous--and largely accidental--development and how to more effectively work with students who are preparing to teach. The Long Journey from Recipe Collecting to Reflective Practice: Stages of Development

Despite the fact that teaching will never be "easy," I have drawn on my own experience and worked very hard to find ways to make the entry into teaching easier for my students. My first year of teaching was truly "the year from hell." I was given class lists and stacks of books but no advice from veteran teachers, who believed that a "wait-and-see, sink-or-swim" approach was the best way to initiate new teachers into the profession. Then, there were the students in my general English classes, who had their own ideas about initiating novice teachers. Because my own high school classes had been rigidly tracked, I had never known that kids like these existed. My students didn't even pretend to play the school game, and some were almost as old as I was. One boy in my homeroom, who had his own apartment, asked me to personally deliver his report card. Several others suggested that bringing in six-packs would help to quell the chaos in the large study hall I had to supervise in the gym.

With no model for teaching English other than the one my teachers had used, I conducted classes like those I had experienced: endless grammar exercises, spelling tests, reading assignments in the literature anthologies, and weekly essays, which I dutifully spent hours editing and returned to students, who checked the grades and then slid them into their notebook clutter or crumpled them into balls and aimed for the wastebasket.

Of course, many students were not motivated to do homework assignments so there were many failing grades. And regularly there were also serious classroom disruptions which I tried to handle--at first by giving detentions and later by sending the offenders to the principal's ofrice. Nothing worked. The principal, formerly a football coach and business law teacher, apparently didn't or couldn't help me see why I was failing as a teacher. …

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