August 23, 2009
Got class? Becoming a teacher takes more than a desire for summer vacation
Tribune Media Services
Unless you have an open mind, a good sense of humor, patience and excellent people skills, teaching may not be your calling. Perks like job security, geographical mobility and lengthy holiday breaks often act as powerful incentives before prospective teachers realize the demands of the profession.
However, if you have what it takes, teaching can be an extremely satisfying career full of opportunities for personal and professional development. Few other professions allow you to make such a positive and lasting impact on people’s lives and help shape the minds of the future.
Whether you’re new to the job market or considering a change, having these five characteristics will increase your chances of a promising teaching career:
An open mind
Learning and adapting are two of the biggest parts of being a successful teacher. Each day will bring unexpected obstacles to overcome, so you must be able to handle a significant amount of adversity -- especially early in your career.
Lynn Columba, program coordinator of the College of Education at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., says the best teachers consider themselves “lifelong learners” who are willing to explore new teaching strategies and methods as well as act on current research in the classroom.
“Effective teachers are not born, they are made after an enormous amount of hard work and dedication,” Columba says. “Just like their students become more academically mature, so must teachers expect to grow and develop as educational professionals every day of their career.”
Flexibility and patience
One of the core doctrines of teaching should be that everything is in a constant state of change. Interruptions and disruptions are the norm and very few days are “typical.” Therefore, Columba says, a flexible and patient attitude is important not only for your stress level but also for your students, who expect you to be in charge and take control of any situation.
“We must all be more and more flexible and have the ability to go with the ‘teachable moment,’ ” Columba says. “That’s not easy, especially after spending hours developing a highly structured lesson plan.”
Sure, those extended vacations are nice. Any profession that offers paid summers off is going to pique the interest of many looking for a job.
But don’t schedule that three-month European getaway just yet. Summers are a time when many teachers learn new skills, teach at summer school, attend seminars or work on earning a graduate degree.
And being a teacher doesn’t stop when the final bell rings for the school day, says Phyllis Mendenhall, coordinator of advising in the teacher education department at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
“I tell people that even though the bell might ring at 3 p.m., you are grading papers and preparing lessons at night,” Mendenhall says. “I tell them, ‘You’ll be taking graduate classes (from) mid- to late June, when school gets out, until early August, when you have to report back.’ ”
You will be thrown many curveballs in life, and that can be especially true in the teaching profession. A positive outlook will help you deal with these in the best way.
At the same time, some of your students will likely come to class with a negative attitude, so it’s best to try to counteract that with a positive attitude and a sense of humor.
An effective teacher should strive to raise the bar for his or her students. If you go in expecting less effort, you will likely receive less effort.
You should focus on an approach that says you know students can achieve to your level of expectations, thereby giving them a sense of confidence. This is not to suggest you should create unrealistic expectations. However, your expectations will be one of the key factors in helping students learn and achieve.
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