In my experience, it is true that the happier you are as a teacher, the more effective you’ll be. But the reality is, we won’t always be happy as teachers. We will face difficulties, dense workloads, challenging students, cantankerous coworkers, and imperfect parents. These circumstances will not always feel good. These circumstances may never change and, in turn, may consistently make us unhappy.
Even in the midst of unhappiness, there is one goal that all teachers must commit to in order to be successful: the determination to grow.
In teacher preparatory programs, we learn how to create a lesson objective, the difference between scaffolding and differentiating, and how to properly pace a lesson. The one thing I wish all teachers learned is that it takes years to become a masterful teacher. The only way to do this is to be committed to growth. One of my professors enlightened me and the rest of her students with this truth. She assured us that during our first year, our students wouldn’t die if we didn’t teach them perfectly. She also assured us that we wouldn’t get classroom management and pedagogy well balanced until our fifth or sixth year of teaching.
I’ve come across various resources that have encouraged me with this simple truth, and I want to reiterate it for you. It will take years to become a great teacher. If you are discouraged in the profession right now because you feel like you can’t seem to get it all right, that you are failing the students, and that there are too many expectations on you as a human being, my encouragement to you is that it’s all right. Give it time and commit yourself to growth.
Over the years, I’ve aimed for this goal in different ways. During my first year of teaching, I was incredibly unorganized, had terrible pacing of lessons, and my classroom management was the pits. However, I had strengths as well: passion, creativity, improvisational skills, and exceptional rapport with the kids. It would have been easy for me to coast on these strengths, and reason that this is just who I was as a teacher. Yet, seeing the talent of veteran teachers around me and getting advice inspired me to continue getting better.
I was more organized my second year. My pacing and classroom management improved, but my lesson planning needed more rigor and structure. My evaluations were consistently effective, but that didn’t mean I had arrived. It would have been easy to settle for that score and not strive for more than the growth I had already made since the year before. To do so would be a disservice to myself and my students, however. Now, as I go into my fifth year of education, growth continues to be my goal.
Many teachers are giving up on the profession. Education is a taxing career, but it is not impossible work. Through this work, I’ve been stretched beyond my limits and have grown each year. I’m reminded of a quote by Thomas Jefferson about perseverance: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Growth is a continual process of perseverance. As educators, the effectiveness of our work directly correlates to our ability and willingness to persevere.
All of us have the capacity to grow and improve in any skill or profession that we have. When we stretch and challenge ourselves to go beyond our comfort zones, we receive the reward of accomplishment and are inspired to continue striving for newer and varied vistas. If we choose to settle, we may never experience the fulfilling rewards that come with our profession. What is more, if we choose not to grow, we will not be able to adapt to the challenging circumstances that we face, which will inevitably lead to being disgruntled and chronically unhappy. But if we choose to continue to grow in our careers, learn from our mistakes, and look for positive solutions to challenging problems, we will lead successful and impactful careers as educators.