Most people who decide to pursue a career in education do so because they have a generous character and a burning desire to help people and make the world a better place. When studying and preparing to become a teacher, you feel hopeful, excited, and confident that you have the right mindset, the dedication, and commitment to make a difference in people’s lives. You can’t wait to finish school and graduate college and start applying all the ideas you have and the theory you’ve learned in the real world, and see the fruits of your labor.
Then you land your first job as a teacher and get thrown into a world that’s often very different from what you’ve envisioned. Being an educator is not all fun and games, and you have to adapt quickly to the reality surrounding you. This new, unexpected reality can include ruthless coworkers, tight deadlines and full schedules, demanding parents, and even aggressive students. Being a teacher will take a toll on you, both physically and emotionally, and unfortunately, college doesn’t always equip you with all the necessary tools and resources to make it in this industry.
Here are a few things that teachers don’t learn in college, and some things that require a more in-depth analysis and more thorough training. Being a new teacher can be overwhelming, and it might be exhausting, but remember that everyone goes through it, so don’t give up! Keep honing your skills, deepening your knowledge in the field, and never stop learning and growing.
1. Dealing with dyslexia
While universities do teach a lot about dyslexia and other reading difficulties, once you find yourself in a classroom full of young children, you realize it’s a lot more common than you think. In fact, dyslexia affects 20% or 1 in every 5 people in the U.S., and the range of symptoms varies in each person. In children, it can be even harder to recognize, and often mistaken for shyness, ADHD, autism, or just a slower pace of development. It takes time and experience to spot the early signs of dyslexia in the classroom, because these signs aren’t always as cut and dry as they seem to be in theory. It takes even more time and effort to support students who struggle with it and help them achieve reading fluency.
2. Dealing with dyscalculia
Another thing that new teachers have to deal with in the classroom is dyscalculia. While it’s almost as commonly widespread as dyslexia, there isn’t as much talk about it, because it’s hard to differentiate between a real learning disability and just a lack of interest or agility when it comes to math. Since it’s a challenging subject that most children find intimidating or frustrating to begin with, the symptoms of dyscalculia can pass unobserved, and this can significantly hinder a child’s academic performance and evolution. Continuing to educate yourself on dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, and other learning disabilities is crucial if you want to be able to spot the signs and symptoms early on, and provide support to the students who need it in your classroom.
3. Focusing on executive functioning skills
Before going into challenging topics like math, literature, science, or the arts, educators should focus extensively on helping students develop their executive functioning skills. These skills are critical for children, especially in their early formative years, and they can have a lifelong impact on their personal, academic, and professional development. Executive functioning skills build a child’s capacity to plan ahead, to establish and meet goals, to exhibit self-control and self-awareness, to follow directions, stay focused, avoid distractions, problem-solve, and so on. They are critical skills in the classroom, but also in daily life, and they need to be seen as pillars of a child’s education, setting the foundation for all the other lessons they need to learn.
4. Prioritizing mental health in the classroom
We are much more aware nowadays of the role mental health can play in a child’s academic development, and the way it can affect them in the classroom. Mental health issues like anxiety, depression, OCD, or agoraphobia, to name just a few, affect more and more children today, and teachers must always be on the lookout for any signs of mental distress. While some students will undergo a certain level of anxiety during classes, have trouble with public speaking or socializing, which are normal parts of the growing up process, teachers should be able to identify when there are more serious issues at play.
Educating yourself on the subtle signs and symptoms that a student in your classroom might be struggling with their mental health is crucial, because you’ll also learn how to approach the situation without causing any further distress. Unfortunately, you don’t get to go that deep during college, so you’ll need to further develop these skills as part of your CPE training or individual research. It will, however, be worth it, because you could significantly impact a child’s life and support them in their mental health journey.
5. Navigating special education assessments
If your dream is to help children with special education needs thrive in the classroom and reach their full academic potential, then you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the special education assessment process. This is a challenging process that can make or break a child’s educational development, and it’s something that requires your full attention and dedication.
The evaluation process determines a child’s specific, individualized educational needs, and is used to establish the best possible plan for their academic development. During the process, you’ll identify a child’s educational strengths, their weaknesses, and their needs, to help you establish the best course of action. These decisions are made by experienced educators who specialize in special education, while consulting with the parents to help them make an informed decision. For new teachers with minimal experience and expertise, support from an established organization like Da Vinci Collaborative can ensure that the child receives the best possible evaluation for their specific needs.
6. Embracing technology
We all know that technology continues evolving all the time, and college programs and institutions can have a hard time keeping up with this development. Innovations in assistive technology aren’t always taught in school, so it’s important to educate yourself as much as you can to be tech savvy and aware of all the tools and resources that can help you in the classroom. The lack of proper instruction in this area has never been as evident as it was during the pandemic, when suddenly teachers and students all over the world had to switch to remote learning. This sudden shift impacted students with special needs the most, as many schools and teachers were simply unprepared or unequipped with the right technology to go remote.
Educating yourself on the merits and benefits of technology is crucial to surviving and thriving in this increasingly digital age, and it’s a way of being prepared for situations when you have to hold a lesson remotely or have conversations with peers or parents online. At Da Vinci Collaborative, we’re always trying to stay up-to-date with new tools and apps that can help us better serve the needs of all students, and especially of those struggling with learning disabilities.
7. Communicating with parents
One of the most important things new teachers need to prepare for is communicating with parents. This might be one of the most intimidating and challenging parts of the job, requiring a lot of tact, diplomacy, and patience.
Sometimes parents will criticize or challenge you, question your methods or require you to intervene in conflicts with other students in the classroom. These are situations that no school or college, no matter how prestigious, can prepare you for, but you can prepare yourself by going into every parent meeting calm, collected, and with all your homework done. Put yourself in the parents’ shoes and try to anticipate their questions, be a good listener, and always keep calm. In time, you’ll get more comfortable dealing with conflict or difficult conversations, but it can be a daunting process in the early days of your career.
8. Dealing with school administrators
It’s not just parents and their children you’ll be dealing with on a daily basis; you’ll have to navigate challenging situations and discussions with your school administrator and other teachers, as well. You might find that your perspectives and methods don’t always align with the school, or that other teachers might question the way you approach things.
It’s impossible to get along with everyone, just like in any other industry, but it’s important to always keep in mind that you’re all working towards the same goal: providing the best possible education to your students. If you find yourself clashing with the school administrator or other teachers, just keep doing the best work you can, keep an open mind, and remember to keep your options open in case it ultimately doesn’t work out.
9. The emotional toll of teaching
Something that they don’t teach you in college is the emotional toll that teaching can have on you. You’ll be flooded with joy when students in your classroom reach a new milestone or get accepted to a great college, or when older students visit you and tell you that you’ve had an impact on their lives. You’ll also be flooded with emotion whenever a student struggles in your classroom, when they encounter a setback, or when you see a student unable to make progress.
You’ll experience a wide range of emotions, from feelings of hopelessness, frustration, and disappointment, to euphoria, joy, and satisfaction. You’ll come exhausted after a long day, or leave school feeling pride in your work and your accomplishments. Teaching is, as they say, an emotional rollercoaster, and in the early days of your career, it can be overwhelming, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help from a professional if you feel like you need it. We’ve all been there.
10. Making time for CPE
CPE stands for Continuing Professional Education, and it’s a requirement for all educators to keep their CPE certificates up to date. CPE classes can be provided internally by school administrators or school districts, or by independent coaches and certified training providers, like Da Vinci Collaborative. Teachers can also search online to find individual courses or training programs they can pursue to accumulate the required 150 to 200 hours of CPE training.
As a new teacher, your schedule will be filled to the brink, and attending classes or online training sessions might be the last thing on your mind. But it’s critical to find time to keep developing your skills as a teacher, to familiarize yourself with new trends and concepts, and keep growing professionally. While it’s a time-consuming activity that seems to take up even more of your time, it’s important to set aside a few hours every week to perfect yourself and hone your craft, instead of leaving it all for the last minute. It will help you tremendously in the long run.