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Seven things I’ve learned about education

By CHIP CONRAD

After my first year of teaching here are the things I have learned about public education:

1.) I didn’t know teachers had so much freedom to customize their curriculum. Each course has five to 10 different theories that a student must learn by the end of the semester. How you get there and what else your students learn along the way is essentially left up to the educator.

2.) The students are not as addicted to their phones as you might think. I don’t have issues with phones in my classroom yet I have no posted or known cell phone policy. I see it as a barometer for my level of engagement. The more I keep them engaged the less they are on their phones. If I start seeing phones come out I know I need to ramp up the wow of the lesson.

3.) As a teacher you don’t talk to other teachers very much. Teaching can be a very solitary job if you let it. I got lucky and the teacher in the room next to me is a veteran in the education world and is very fun to be around. We chat often.

4.) Teaching seems like a repetitious job but it’s not. As it turns out teaching is a very dynamic voyage. Yes, I get up every day at 5:30 a.m. and I get back from school every day around 4:30 p.m.,  but I found the hours in between are highly unpredictable. You never know what the day is going to hold, except that it will be different than the day before. In addition to its unpredictability is the pace. The pace that a teacher must work to stay ahead of the tidal wave of responsibilities is incredible. Yes, I look at the clock a lot but it’s never because I’m hoping it’ll move faster; quite the opposite.

5.) There’s a large focus on the teacher from the school administration. I’ve never seen an industry where administration is worried so much about the worker. I’m constantly being asked how I’m doing. I am almost inundated with personal development events and opportunities to rejuvenate.

6.) Teachers get very possessive of their students. I’ve become so possessive of my students that if by chance I need a sub for one of my absences the sub has specific instructions not to instruct. My classroom is set up that if I’m not there student leaders will lead their group through the curriculum. This is how I make sure they do not fall behind when I’m not there. But seriously… Don’t instruct my students.

7.) As a teacher, teaching is not your first priority. I  went into this career with the mantra that “my goal is not to teach. It’s to connect and then to teach.” I thought this was a novel approach to education but it is most—if not all—educators’ mantra. Connecting with the student requires you to actually care about the student and where they’re at in life. You’re constantly asking yourself “What was the student’s morning like? What’s going on with their relationships? How are they feeling? Where is this person’s anxiety level? What are they going home to after school?.” I think as adults we can forget how stressful the high school years are. Anytime you enter a new arena you are presented with the unexpected. Your hope is that these issues are mostly positive. In my case the good, by far, outlays the negative. Lucky me!

(Chip Conrad lives in Salem and is a substitute teacher with the Salem-Keizer School District.)