Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nightmare? Oldest Wants to Become An Educator When He Grows Up!

My oldest son Robert is a senior at Grandview, and he is inching his way toward graduation
Having lived through the experience of a Preview Day at a state university in recent weeks (how do college students walk that much, but then that could explain the plethora of bicyles), and as the reality of my oldest going to that "green" place is sinking in, we have started to discuss possible majors. His choice, and it gives me pause and pride and then fear again, is to become an educator.
More specifically, he wants to teach math and coach football. If he is to go that pathway, and he could change his mind, as reportedly 80% of freshmen surveyed do change their majors, I want him to keep some things in mind on how he should conduct himself as a professional and what is best route to go. This has been hard earned knowledge. Why wouldn't I share it with him? (The taking it part is trickier.) I will start with these five things:
1. Look for entry level positions with a spirit of humility. You don't know all you don't know until you actually get out into the coaching ranks and secure that first classroom. Learning to drive a bus, write a lesson plan that has some sense of coherence, the appropriate tone to take in given situations. Being willing to take on the extra duty to learn how to do it, and this may involve laundry or field striping or sweeping the gym floor, will give depth and texture and appreciation to every strata, and competence is admired and noticed. Starting off at a middle school is a wise place to lay a foundation.
2. Show up for all meetings prepared, regardless of their importance, with a contribution to make that is about calm assertion. Do your homework on grades on little Johny, with a sample of work or an anecdote of misbehavior that doesn't judge but calls attention to need. Shake hands with parents, stay off your phone, talk quietly and if necessary forcefully, but don't let them ever know you would rather be some place else. Start all meetings the way you should run practice, which is to state an objective, then pursue it, with a closing restatement of goals at the end. Stay courteous, no matter what. And the time will come when faced with explosiveness, rudeness, wrongheadedness or just straight up nuttiness, you will feel the urge to bite someone. Always stay in character as the calm professional. When possible, "staff" ahead of time and de-brief with other professionals aftewards. You will find that you are not alone, and you will gain balance in your emotions and approach.
3. Teach as long as you can, as hard as you can, and as good as you can, MINIMUM, 90% of the time, as a goal you set. Now, I know that may be saying that one should take 10 days off a semester, but what that is referencing is the reality that there are going to be days that you are tired, ill, out of sorts on the content of the lesson or the pace of the class, and while you must do the job of maintaining standards of performance and expectation, there might be days for remediation, for that special food day, a day when many of your students are gone, and you can't move forward with a major lesson. Yes, dare to show a relevant movie or an irrelevant, as a reward, not as a rule.  Make those rare opportunities to bond, to give students a human side, to take a breather, to gird themselves and you for the next challenge, then move forward renewed. Take a "mental health" day, once or twice per semester, to recharge and come back stronger and clearheaded, if you feel the "thousand yard stare" coming on, and that is something that you will understand when you experience it.
4. Be a "go-to" guy on your campus. Serve on a committee, offer to drive that bus to that field trip, be vigilant on hall duty/lunch duty/bus duty, and don't forget to bring food to that gathering. Bring up that fight before it gets started. Cover a class when Mrs. Schwartz has to go to the dentist with her dog with a spirit of willingness and generosity. It is those moments that others will remember when they view you beyond your classroom or field performance, and it may help you keep your job or get the next one.
5. Dress for success every single day. Now, I know that may seem superficial, but there is a respect for your profession and those you are teaching when you wear that Zebra tie the first day of school, have the appropriate shoes, take part in theme days with some creativity and fun. Following a professional dress code may seem like a no-brainer, but I have known many, both male and female, who look like they just rolled out of bed, ate Sonic in the car, and smelled like old cheese on the way past toward the lounge. Doesn't breed confidence; does open the door to a pervasive disrespect.
These may all seem common sense or obvious, but way back in 1990, long before graying hair and children, I was young and dumb and full of gum. I learned hard lessons, and so will you. You will falter, and you may even fall. The getting up part, the grinding, the moving forward to the next challenge will define you. Along the way, wear a clean shirt, smile politely, and don't forget the school secretary's birthday.
One last word of advice, if you chose to accept this mission: above all, love what you do, or go do something else. There is no greater profession to do more good or harm than teaching.
Sure you don't want to be an engineer?