Monday, November 26, 2012

From a Teacher's Point of View: Life Lessons One Can Learn from Teaching

learning(Today’s post is written by Aileen Pablo. She is part of the team behind Open Colleges and InformED, one of Australia’s leading providers of Open Learning and distance education. When not working, Aileen blogs about education and career. She is often invited as a speaker in Personality Development Seminars in the Philippines. If you are interested in featuring her works in your blog, you can find her on Google+. )

“Why in the world would you want to be a teacher?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten questions like that, from friends, family, and strangers alike. Usually they’re not quite as direct and flabbergasted as I’m making them seem in that quote (they have to at least try to be polite), but that’s what they mean when they ask. My answer is always the same: I like learning.

Most people interpret that as my way of saying that I like helping my students to learn things. While that’s certainly true, it isn’t what I mean at all. In teaching, I’ve discovered a profession where I feel like I learn new things about myself and how the world works on an almost daily basis, and that kind of learning is an addiction I just don’t know how I could give up.

Normally I don’t talk a lot about these lessons I’ve learned with people asking that question, because I feel like asking it in the first place makes it unlikely that they’ll really understand what I’m saying. But I always enjoy talking with other teachers about it because they immediately get what I mean. Here are just a few things I’ve learned – and re-learned – about life over the years from teaching.

Parents and culture are oh-so-important. You always hear how parents have to be more involved in their children’s education and so on and so forth, but it doesn’t really hit home until you have a 16-year-old pregnant student ask what’s wrong with you that you don’t already have a baby. After all, her 33-year-old mother is already a grandma because her older sister had her first baby last year and the whole family was so excited. Aren’t babies just the best?

Naturally, my explanation that I’ve been busy with college and a career and finding the right guy didn’t seem to make sense to her. Why would I choose that over having a baby? Clearly, this is something she’s heard quite a bit growing up, but instead of feeling sad for her – she’s quite happy, at least for the moment – I silently thank my own parents for the way they raised me.

I am not nearly as strong as I think I am. When I first got into teaching, I was quite proud of my educational accomplishments. Coming from a poor family, I graduated near the top of my high school class and was the first person to go to college. Then, I graduated early even though I had to work the entire time I was in school.

My first year, I taught a student who was brilliant, but who I often caught sleeping in class. Despite this, he always aced every test and turned in his work on time, but it bothered me so much that I often hounded him because I felt like he was skating by due to his intelligence and not really trying.

One day, I found him in a panic after school and asked what was wrong. After a bit of prodding, he said that his ride bailed on him and he had to get to work, so I offered to take him. When we pulled up to his workplace, I asked if he was going to be able to get a ride home and he said he couldn’t think that far ahead – he was still hoping to get a ride to his next job.

Naturally I was floored. Here was this kid at the top of my class working part time jobs until 2 in the morning and then somehow managing to sit through English Lit and Pre-Calculus. And I had been harassing him.

Worse, I learned over the next few months that he was pretty much doing it all without the help of his parents, who didn’t even seem to know that he was still going to school, much less that he was doing well enough to graduate and have his pick of colleges. All they cared about was that he was working enough to bring in money for the family.

It was at that point that I realized I would never be able to do what he was doing. If I had been forced to essentially work a full-time job at 17, it would have been the end of my school career, because I would have made the “adult” decision to choose my survival over my education. Thankfully, that was never something I had to deal with, but it really opened my eyes to the fact that every kid has a unique story, and you can’t just try to fit them into a box.

Image: 'Student and Teacher'

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