Test Driving a Teaching Career
Deciding to become a full-time teacher is a big step. You may be able to remember teachers from your youth that seemed to make it look easy and fun to be a teacher. So if you think you might have the temperament for teaching and that it would be a rewarding career, the best way to find out more about it is to test drive being a teacher in various limited settings to get an idea for how it feels to be a teacher before you launch into the career full time.
The first thing you want to get exposure to is how it will feel to stand in front of a room full of children or young people to present a lesson to them. If you have never done it, it can be a terrifying moment. It is similar to public speaking with the added twist that young people can be fidgety, might be prone to shout things out without notice, and can misbehave right in the middle of your presentation which is not something you see that often when doing a presentation to adults.
There are lots of volunteer situations where you can test drive speaking to groups of youngsters to see if it is something you want to do every day. You can volunteer to read to children at the local library or teach Sunday School at your church and have that responsibility for an hour and then it is over. Now, don’t be too concerned if you are terrified the first time you look out at that sea of little faces. That is so common it would be surprising if you didn’t. Lots of full-time teachers with years of experience still get that terror when they open their classes each morning.
But if you get through the session and have an exhilaration and that feeling that even though it was scary, you want to get in front of them again, you may have the stuff of a teacher inside you trying to get out. And you can get a long term assignment in a volunteer role to “scratch that itch” to teach young people until you finally make the jump to a full-time career in teaching.
But there is more to teaching than just talking in front of a class. To really understand how a day of a teacher goes, look for an opportunity to volunteer to be a teacher’s aid from time to time. If you can sit in on a class for a day and help out every so often, you can see how a day in the life of a real teacher works. You can witness how the lesson plan is put together and how the preparation of the teacher makes it possible for her to move from lesson to lesson smoothly without losing the attention of the students.
Being in an actual working classroom is the best possible situation for either getting hooked on becoming a teacher yourself or find yourself running in terror for the door. Either way, you will know for sure if you have the “stuff” for the job of teaching. During a classroom day, there will be disruptions that naturally occur. You can learn from a seasoned professional how to smoothly handle them so they do not disrupt the teaching environment You can see how that teacher handles discipline issues, group projects and moves the children from small group sessions to individual study times and then back to general class participation with easy and skill. These are all skills for you to conquer and seeing them in action is the best way to learn them.
The next step from there is to become a full-fledged substitute teacher. Now work with your local school districts because you may have to have some training and certification to be able to substitute teach. But by being available and ready to step in for a teacher who is ill or called away, you will suddenly have an entire classroom of children for you to teach and you can test drive running a full day of activities in the classroom.
Naturally, it won’t go perfectly at first. But you can stay at each of these phases until you feel comfortable to move on. And when you conquer that stage of orientation to teaching, you can take that final step and become a full-time teacher yourself.
The Inner Calling to Teach
When you determine that you want to be a teacher of children or teenagers, that is much more than a career decision. It is a commitment to the future generation and an expression of a nobility in you that would not be seen in any other way. Unlike many other lines of work, people go into teaching for other reasons than just an interest in the career field or a way to make a paycheck.
It’s sometimes difficult to put into words what your motivations are that drive you to pick teaching as your career. This is especially true if you are asked by friends why you made that choice. In many ways, teaching is misunderstood and if you voiced what that inner calling to teach feels like, that urge to educate the young takes on the trappings of the calling of a missionary or a martyr. So you probably don’t voice your real motivations because they might sound corny to someone who is not carrying that special calling as you are.
Part of that urge to teach the young is a bond between you and the next coming up generation that makes you driven to offer your talents, your education, and your life to teach the young important information and to model life skills for them as well. That bond with the very young may have originated in you when you had children yourself. But for a teacher who is called to the profession at a very deep level, that calling does not go away which is why so many teachers stay with the job decade after a decade only willing to lay it down when health issues brought on by age forces the issues.
But the teaching calling is not entirely altruistic. There are some real rewards that also exist on the emotional and ethical level of being a teacher. Just seeing young people respond to knowledge and to your leadership as their teacher is deeply gratifying to one who is called to this profession. And when you are teaching a classroom of 20-30 kids, that gratification can become magnified many times over. It is a great experience of excitement when you see so many children do well and move on to their next grade all because of what you offered to them as their teacher.
Teaching young people is also a tremendous amount of fun. Yes, as their teacher it is your task to keep them on task to complete their lessons and keep moving toward their goal of finishing their educational objectives of the day and of the year. But along the way, you become a friend of the child and the child a friend of yours. There are literally scores of moments of the sheer joy of play between teacher and student that is grounded in a pure form of friendship that is a hidden benefit to committing to a classroom of children to teach and mentor them to success.
The calling to teach is one that is buried deep in the soul of the teacher and for many, it goes unfulfilled. The difficulties of teaching or the rigorous training that society requires of teachers often keeps away many talented teachers who cannot make those kinds of sacrifices. But for those that can, the sense of fulfillment of a mission and the pride and satisfaction of seeing your students do well is a reward for teaching that is impossible to describe and impossible to replace as well.