A former sixth-grade student recently approached Max Fischer. After teaching at the college level, Fischer's former student was considering a transition to teaching in a public high school. How did Fischer advise his former student? Included: Five questions for future teachers to consider.
Max W. Fischer
Recently, I had a gratifying back-to-the-future experience -- the kind of experience that is unique to the teaching profession: A student I taught in a sixth-grade class more than 20 years ago got in touch with me. Now in his 30s and a college professor with a family on the way, he sought my counsel as he considered making a transition to teaching at the high-school level.
I resisted an initial temptation to go on about how education had been a rewarding career choice for me. Instead, I emailed him a few questions I thought might help him reflect as he considered a career switch.
What experiences have led you to believe you would enjoy teaching high-school students?
While I appreciated his experience with college level students, I wanted my former student to analyze his familiarity with high-school-age students. What if he ended up being frustrated with the abilities of those younger students and regretting the move?
While my former student probably has a good idea of what lies in store, I would ask anyone considering a transition to the classroom a pointed question: What positive, real-life experiences have you had to support your belief that you will be able to reach high-schoolers? (Or middle schoolers? Or whatever age students you hope to teach?) Just because school was an enjoyable experience as a student does not mean you are prepared to lead students as a teacher. Practical experience coaching Little League or with the Boy Scouts, Big Brothers/Sisters, or another community youth-service organization can be a valuable indicator of preparedness and success.
In my opinion, one of the most important changes in teacher education in recent years has been the infusion of college freshmen into public school classrooms; the sooner teachers-to-be experience hands-on the age group they hope to teach, the sooner they get a real feel for all the job entails.
How prepared are you to handle discipline issues in the classroom?
Future teachers often give little thought to the dirty linen of our profession -- discipline. They give discipline issues little consideration until they're confronted with them. (And, while we're facing dirty little secrets, most experienced educators know that new teachers often end up with many of the least appealing class assignments.) For my former student, who has spent more than a decade in a university environment, the issue of student discipline and his preparation to handle it should be a vital consideration. While it's understandable that novice educators will take some time to gain a secure footing with classroom discipline, they need to be aware of the realities and consider the pitfalls associated with confrontations with overwrought students and angry parents -- especially since support from building administrators can often be tenuous.
Specifically, what areas of the curriculum do you hope to teach?
During the past decade, I have counseled all of my college interns and student teachers -- who usually have their sights set on teaching history -- to have a Plan B. The fact is that history teachers are in plentiful supply. They always were, always will be. Finding a position will be difficult at best.
My former student's classroom teaching experience might give him an advantage; on the other hand, a district might prefer to save money by hiring somebody with no experience. And, when a history position does open up in a district, it is frequently grabbed by faculty already in the system or by a candidate who has the skills to coach football on the side.
I knew when I was in high school that I wanted to become a history teacher -- but I was wisely advised by one of my high school coaches to consider teaching the upper elementary grades instead. I made a switch from elementary to middle school many years later when a position opened up.
What do you expect your students will gain from your teaching?
For now, forget standards and instructional objectives. Instead, during the initial consideration of a career in education, what would you bring to students in a classroom? Would your caring personality be your biggest asset? Your high energy level? Your passion for learning? Your natural empathy for young people? As a prospective educator you need to think about the things you naturally bring to the table that will benefit students and help ensure personal satisfaction.
What do you hope to gain from your life's work?
Each and every one of us has a conception of what will bring us personal success, satisfaction, and happiness. Are we looking for recognition? Money? The potential for promotion? Responsibility? Intrinsic satisfaction? If recognition or money is high on your scale of personal happiness, perhaps it would be best to forego any further thoughts of teaching.
I added those last two questions with undergraduate students in mind. Statistics indicate that one-fifth of teachers leave the profession within their first three years of teaching and, in urban areas, one-half leave in their first five years. Would-be teachers need to engage themselves in truthful introspection as they consider their responses to those questions. Serious thinking about those questions will help reveal if teaching will be a personally fulfilling vocation.
Attracting and Keeping Quality Teachers
"A historic turnover is taking place in the teaching profession. While student enrollments are rising rapidly, more than a million veteran teachers are nearing retirement. Experts predict that overall we will need more than 2 million new teachers in the next decade" This article published by the National Education Association (NEA) explores the issues of the teacher shortage and teacher retention.
A teacher for over three decades, Max Fischer currently teaches seventh graders the marvels of ancient and medieval history. A National Board certified teacher in the area of early adolescence social studies/history, Max has authored nine resource books for teachers in the fields of social studies, health, and math. You can read a previously published article about Fischer: Simulations Engage Students in Active Learning.
Article by Max Fischer
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