So, You Want to be a Public School Teacher? Here are some Tips
Discipline, order, discipline, love, discipline
Did I mention discipline? I admit, this is my weakness. It doesn't come naturally for me, but I have improved in this area. It's all about having rules and consequences and sticking to them. I'm a big softy, but you can't be that way as a teacher. Discipline creates order, and that keeps the students focused. Michael Linsin is an expert on classroom management. Please check out his website here.
You're going to fall in love with your kids. Well, most of them. And it's all right to dish out hugs and pats on the head. Your love for children is probably the main reason you chose to teach in the first place. This connection with your students is the best, most rewarding part of your job.
You'll Need to become Wise as Solomon
Drama, drama, drama. Unfortunately, even with the best classroom management, about half of your day is going to involve dealing with squabbles. Most can be handled with comments like, "Just ignore him/her." or plain "Stop it." But sometimes you get a full-blown conflict that involves a mini civil war. Lines get divided, and two kids who were best friends before gym class are now mortal enemies with their own armies and intelligence officers. If you didn't witness what happened, you are going to have to rely on what the involved parties have to say. All I can say about this is: Pray for wisdom, call the principal if it comes to needing help, and shift your lesson plans around. Today's lesson won't be about subject-verb agreement; it will involve human-human agreement--learning to get along and working out conflicts.
You'll Need Eight Arms, Three Bodies, and Twenty Eyes
In my school days, I seem to just recall the teacher standing behind a lectern, dispensing knowledge, and the student was expected to pick up what she was putting down. That was before the days of No Child Left Behind and other government regulations adding complications to teaching. Now, you'd better make every effort to make sure all brains are engaged and receptive.
The average classroom has one teacher and about 25 students. Let's say you're starting a unit on telling time to second graders (I just went through this.) Joey's dad taught him how to tell time already, so already he is bored. Of the 24 remaining, 12 kids learn quickly and can tell time with a little prompting, while the other 12 either don't understand at all, can't count by fives, or fall somewhere in between all this. How do you work with every child? If you know how, please tell me. I have found dividing and conquering is effective. Put the kids who understand with a group of kids who don't, and you and Joey, your new best friend, wander around and make sure everyone is at least trying. You have to make sure there's no teasing, no distractions, and the kid you put in charge of helping is actually doing it right. You work for four days, and on Friday you find out how effective your teaching was by giving a test. Your weekend will either be joyful or full of racking your brain to figure out what you should have done differently.
I've just hit the high spots of what to expect when you enter a classroom. Teaching will never be dull. Between county, state, and national regulations, standardized testing determining your effectiveness (unfair, but that's life), seeing your students struggle with poverty or domestic dysfunction, and interpersonal drama, you will have your hands full. You'll spend your own money for classroom materials. You will work with other teachers, but during class time, you are on your own. Teaching isn't for the faint of heart. Make sure you want to do it before you get that degree.