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Good Teachers Are Made, Not Born


Laurie Stenehjem, a graduate of North Dakota State University and a teacher with more than 25 years experience, is a mentor in the Grand Forks Middle School Resident Teacher Program.

Kim wrote last week that she feels as though she's been on a roller coaster ride during her first few months of teaching. I think the first year of teaching is more like a long overland bike ride. You aren't along just for the ride; you have to provide your own power to get over both the little bumps and the big hills.

I know Kim is frustrated, and that makes me somewhat uncomfortable too. Of course, I would like everything to go splendidly for her, but the reality is that the first year of teaching really isn't all that wonderful for most teachers. It's hard to learn to be a good teacher -- and Kim is among the many who don't want to be just good -- they want to be terrific!

Kim's journal entries show her frustrations. When I read them over and listen to her talk, sometimes I start to worry that maybe things really are bad in her classroom. Then I go in to see for myself, and I find that she's actually doing many things very, very well.

You see, Kim has always been an excellent student -- one who worked hard, caught on quite easily, behaved in class and, consequently, was very successful. For the most part, she had control over her own success. What she's experiencing now is not the high level of success she's used to, so she tends to think that she's failing.

Teaching just isn't that simple. It's always a delicate harmony between the science of teaching -- what we know about best practices, child development, and so on -- and the art of teaching -- such as personal style and how to balance the needs of many students at the same time. No matter how well prepared a new teacher is, there is still a lot left to learn when he or she first gets in front of a classroom. Even veteran teachers find that the beginning of a new school year can be a challenge, as teacher and students become comfortable with one another.

It is important to understand that there are a lot of steps between being a wildly successful teacher and being a failure. This is hard for Kim, but the fact that she's so intelligent and hardworking will help her solve the challenges she inevitably will face in her teaching career. I think that, deep down, Kim does know that she will end up being a terrific teacher.

That's why she keeps coming back day after day, with a smile on her face and a positive attitude. That's why she's able to laugh about losing her mind, and that's why she was able to sell her highly coveted season tickets for University of North Dakota hockey games in order to have more time to work on her schoolwork this year. Kim's success might not be as speedy as she would like it to be, but she knows she's moving in the right direction and that her usual high level of achievement is waiting down the road for her.

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Article by Laurie Stenehjem
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