By Jason Newman
Teaching is not an easy profession, and anyone who says that it is doesn’t know what they’re talking about. If you think you want to become a teacher, I have one question for you:
Can you deal with constant failure?
Every teacher fails every day. We don’t notice that a particular student isn’t catching on. We don’t find the exact right things to say to get a concept across. We get frustrated that an idea we find so easy is so difficult to explain. We forget to plan, we don’t grade on time, we miss calls from parents.
Life as a teacher is fraught with failure. There’s no way around that. But there is a bright side to this stormcloud.
Life as a teacher is also overflowing with success.
Every day you have the opportunity to touch a child’s life for the better. You might be the best, most helpful, most supportive person they see in a given day. You will serve as an example, and your words of wisdom, given thoughtfully or not, will stretch farther than you could have thought possible. You will inspire and you will stumble and you will be remembered for as long as those children live. They will put you on a pedestal you do not deserve.
So, if you think that this goal is worth the constant pressure, the everyday screw-ups, and the knowledge that nothing you do is ever good enough, then welcome to teaching.
Still here? Awesome.
Becoming a teacher is not an especially complicated process in most states, although it is also not necessarily an easy one. As a high school student, if teaching is your goal, you need to focus on getting a college degree, which means getting accepted to a school. Do some research. Find a school that teaches something that you want to teach others. A bachelor’s degree is all you need to qualify for a teaching position, but the degree should have relevance to what you want to teach – after all, if you don’t love it and don’t know it, how can you expect the students to?
I recommend getting your degree in your content area, rather than an education based field. The simple matter is that content knowledge is the most important factor in determining a student’s (and teacher’s!) success. Know your area backward and forward. You will need to be an expert, and your students will need to know you can be relied on.
As you progress through school, assess your strengths and weaknesses. Are you a good speaker? Do you get nervous when put on the spot. Are you creative, or do you need a plan to get through your classes? If you have a good grasp of what you can do well and what is more difficult for you, you will be able to tailor your teaching when the time comes – charismatic, engaging speakers should talk more, while more shy teachers should have a greater emphasis on student-led discussions. Self-awareness and reflection is a critical part of improving your ability to teach well.
If you can get a handle on yourself, who you are, what you can do, and what you want, before you leave high school, then you are well on your way to helping your own students do the same. Good luck!
Jason Newman is a 33 year old high school science teacher in Palmdale, CA. An advocate of independent learning and critical thinking, he develops his classes with the goal of helping students learn to think for themselves in a rapidly-changing society. He has three children, has been married for over ten years, and has recently published his second novel under the name Jason P. Crawford. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Concordia University and will be applying for National Board Certification in the next two years.