Coming back to teaching

Published 9:24 am Saturday, May 5, 2018

By Leslie Leffers

Austin High School Language Arts Teacher

This year was my first as a teacher in Austin High School.  I had taught previously, but left the profession to work for a software company for two years, and so my teaching skills were a little rusty when the school year started.

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Though teaching was not new to me, the time I had spent outside of the classroom had diminished my confidence a bit. I was apprehensive about many things, but mostly about my classroom management skills.

Because of that fear, I acted like a different person. I played the strict teacher—the one who would be admired by administration (or so I thought) for doing everything perfectly. My lessons were very traditional lectures, and I used the word “inappropriate” a lot. The person who taught like that was definitely not me, and not being myself proved to be both exhausting and unproductive.

My students presented me with challenges that “perfect teacher” me did not know how to tackle. They were late. They were loud. They were bullied and overworked and tired.  Sometimes they were rude.  But they were also creative, and expressive, and opinionated.  They loved listening to music and hated injustice. They valued their friendships and laughed when something was funny.

“Real person” me could relate to those kids, so I dropped the “perfect teacher” routine and started to get to know them as people, not just as my students. Letting my personality show allowed me to connect with the kids on a different level. I let myself be silly and tell jokes. I brought in my high school yearbooks and showed them videos of me in my high school show choir. I shared my responses to the journal questions I made them answer every day. By being authentic and empathetic, I was able to form better relationships with the kids.

The other day I read that “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” I can definitely attest to that. When they saw me as an individual and we built positive relationships, my students became better listeners. They worked harder on assignments and asked better questions. When I taught without pretense, students trusted me, and they learned more in my classes.

This year, I gained respect from my students by just being myself, and that has been an invaluable lesson. When I operate as myself, I have very few classroom management issues, and I am happier. When I am happier, my students are happier, and their learning becomes so much more fun.