Up until this past May, I had been a teacher for four years. Specifically, I was an ESL teacher who had taught English abroad in France. I taught various grade levels, from middle school to university level, from preteens to full-grown adults. I consider it my “first real job” out of college, and while it hadn’t been my initial career choice, I’m glad that it turned out the way it did, as I’d learned so much along the way.
I no longer teach abroad in France, and I’m not a teacher anymore. After doing it for several years (even earning a Master’s degree in Education), I’ve realized that it’s not for me, but I greatly value the experiences and skills I’ve acquired during it. I’ve especially learned a lot about my pupils: who they are as people, and how to help them gain the knowledge in their studies to grow into adulthood.
No, this is not a post to talk bad about students I’ve had throughout my teaching career. Rather, this is a post for my students, if they ever see this. It contains the thoughts and musings I’ve had while teaching, and I’m sure they’re pertinent to any teachers out there. This is a post to give them insight into what goes on on the other side of the podium where I, along with other teachers, have their own beliefs, goals, and struggles which surprisingly aren’t too different from their students’.
I’ve created a list of things I wish that I’d told my students when I was still teaching. Some are serious, some cheeky… but all are 100% honest. That said, to all of my students: this one’s for you!
10 Things I’d Like to Tell my Students (as a former teacher)
1. You are SO young.
Okay, so I wouldn’t consider myself old, but seriously…how is it possible that you’re so young? This past year, I was shocked that my first-year undergrads were born in 2000 and 2001! Makes my time as an 18-year-old feel like ages ago…
It’s also not just being young, but also acting young– from energy levels to recent memes/trends, I can’t keep up (PS I cringe every time you “dab” in class). I can’t relate to you easily, nor do I really wish to. I will say, though, cherish your youth and fast metabolism, because within the next five years, they won’t be the same anymore, and not for the better.
2. Teachers are also addicted to their phones.
Even though I’m not as young as you are, I am also “young,” and I am constantly on my phone whenever I’m not teaching. Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, YouTube…you name it, I’m on there. I grew up with it, while you were probably born with it. Crazy how the Internet has grown so much within these last few decades, right?
I’ll be honest and say that I have at times been distracted with the Internet, even using it to procrastinate when I had work to do. Here’s the secret, though: if you can *eventually* get work done even after hours online, then it’s not really an addiction, is it?
On last thing: some of you’ve managed to find my social media, particularly Facebook in which some of you have tried to add me as a Friend. I’m flattered, and I’d accept your request under conditions that 1) you’re no longer my student, and 2) I’d actually liked you when I was teaching. If you’re still my student and/or I didn’t really know you that well, I’d have to politely decline. Thank you, though!
3. Teachers struggle, too.
True, you have a lot on your plate: classes, homework, tests, applications…not to forget balancing family, social life, mental health, and your hobbies. I get it– I’ve been there, too. But I will say that it doesn’t get easier as you get older: you may have work instead of school in adulthood, but then more factors add up (e.g. rent, bills, health and car insurance, retirement plans) and life becomes more complicated than you’d imagined.
It also applies in the classroom setting: you might have a hard time understanding a subject or trying to fit in with your peers. Again, same here: I’ve struggled to help you understand grammatical concepts in English, and I’ve tried to fit in with my co-workers (especially as a foreigner). I’ve struggled to strike a balance between being liked and being respected, sometimes going too far in both extremes. That said, you’re not alone in your endeavors– we’re all dealing with our own problems.
4. We wish you’d talk to us/ask more questions.
Going off the previous point, it’s important you let me know if you’re having problems in class, or a personal issue that’s affecting your class performance. I’m not a mind-reader, so I really don’t know how you’re doing, unless you tell me. I may be your teacher, and there might be a slight language barrier (fyi, I do know French, so you can speak to me in French, too), but I am not intimidating. I am here to help– it’s my job!
I get it: many of you are shy. Some of you may not have the confidence to speak to me. I am shy, too, but I have learned that being shy gets you nowhere. Being silent doesn’t help you ace the material, and it certainly won’t help you get a job later down the line. You have to speak up and, even if you make a mistake in English, I’m here to correct it, so you can learn from it and improve in the language.
5. We don’t hate you.
Sometimes, it may appear that teachers have a vendetta against you for talking in class, using your phone, or otherwise being obnoxious. You might think that we don’t like you, for XYZ reasons. The truth? We don’t hate you. Far from it. Yes, at times we’re irritated when you don’t listen to our lectures. But we have nothing against you.
There really isn’t a point to hate, anyway. This isn’t just about what goes on at school, but also outside of it in family, friend circles, and work. You won’t necessarily get along with everyone, and that’s okay. Most of the time, it’s never personal. We’re all just trying to get through our work and life, and there’s no reason to spend so much energy disliking certain people.
6. We question your judgement sometimes.
Going to be blunt here, but you should know that we aren’t stupid. We’re well-aware when you show up to class drunk or high, or when you plagiarized a paper assignment. If you think that some of your teachers really aren’t paying attention to your antics, I’m sorry to say that they know perfectly well what you’re doing– they just don’t care enough to deal with it.
I get that you’re young, and that you’re experimenting with the freedom you have as teenagers and young adults. Just don’t let it bleed into the classroom, because we’re not your babysitters: we’re here to teach and guide you through your educational career. Don’t make your personal issues a part of the classroom’s: keep your personal and school lives separate.
7. Teachers also have lives.
It’s easy to assume that your teachers do nothing but teach all day, even in their sleep. Or maybe you think they’re boring and have uneventful lives. I’ll admit that some of my ex-colleagues are dry, but also many of them are really interesting people. Some have cool hobbies and part-time jobs: a friend of mine who’s a substitute teacher is a huge tattoo junkie, and she loves to power-lift in her spare time. She’s super badass!
Personally, when I’m not teaching, I love to get out and travel. I like dabbling in languages, too, and I love to write creatively in my free time. I also socialize with my friends on nights out in town (including the occasional drinks and club scene). In some ways, I’m not too different from you, as I like to enjoy myself and have fun outside of work.
8. We always appreciate your participation in class.
Unless you’re saying that the sky is green, no idea is a dumb idea. That’s why I’m always encouraging you to participate in class, especially when I’m asking an open-ended question. It’s true that we’ve been conditioned since primary school to believe that there’s a fundamentally-right answer to every question, but that’s not true. You should never be shamed for thinking of a different solution to a problem, and if any teacher has done that to you, they’re an asshole.
Even if we have different beliefs on controversial topics (e.g. abortion, feminism, etc.), I try to listen to your ideas with an open mind. I try not to let my emotions get in the way of understanding your logic. That’s what I believe a good teacher should be doing, which is encouraging students to develop their own ideas, and not what they think will put them in the teacher’s favor. In fact, I always find the best works to be about opposing ideas– don’t be afraid to voice your opinion!
9. We’re a lot more generous than you think.
Face it: there’s a lot of drama behind school administration. Sometimes, teachers and staff don’t get along, and some teachers don’t even like each other. There are cliques, too, and constant gossip. If you think teachers and staff are better than their students, then you’d be completely wrong.
Some of your grades are affected by office politics. This might sound harsh, but it’s true: especially if you’re on the border of passing/failing, we end up factoring how you’d done in your other classes, whether you’re a redoublant.e, how you’d scored on the rattrapage, and so forth. More often than not, we end up passing you to the next year. We aren’t heartless, and unless you really aren’t good in the subject, we’ll most likely be lenient with your grades.
10. Teachers do care about you.
Even if it may not appear that way sometimes, we do care about your well-being and success. We want you to pass our class and had learned something along the way. I, as well as some colleagues, feel bad whenever we have to fail someone, no matter how hard they tried in class. Having spent hours and weeks teaching, it’s expected that we develop a rapport with our students over time, and we try to help you as much as we can.
Despite getting frustrated at times, we still sympathize with you at the end of the day. After all, teachers were once students, and we’re compelled to continue this cycle of learning and development, in hopes that some of you, in turn, will do the same with the following generation later on.
Anything else that teachers (former and current) would like to add? Let me know!