Guest post contributed by Dayna Doskocil
Being a teacher is fantastic. It’s rewarding to see students understand something that challenged them in the past. It’s satisfying to hear them say that you made science (or English or history or math) fun for them. It’s gratifying to know that when students walk out your door, they know something about the world because of you.
Teaching is also challenging. Expectations are high—from students, from parents, from department chairs and administrators. Every veteran teacher has advice to offer and, as a newer teacher, you have to figure out what works best for you.
Here are some of the things that I find difficult as a teacher and how I overcome those challenges.
Balancing the needs of the students
Every student who walks through my door is different. Some struggle with math and need extra help. Some learn really well when they read the text, and others when they listen to a lecture or when they work the problems out on their own.
There is a built-in way to handle this challenge that all teachers use. It’s called differentiation—meaning to put as many ways of learning into a lesson as you can. So when I teach ionic compounds, I have the kids take notes, read a few paragraphs, use buttons to simulate how electrons move, use a computer simulation if I can get access to the computers, and practice it in pairs and by themselves. I put four or five different learning styles into one lesson so that the student who learns best by reading isn’t left out. Neither is the student who learns best by moving around.
Balancing the needs of the school
Not only do teachers have to ensure that each student in class is learning and engaged, we also have to make sure that we are in line with the goals of the school. Most of the time, that goal is the same: educate students so that when they enter the “real world,” they will be capable of making good choices. Sometimes, though, there are more things going on with the school than any one teacher knows about. Testing, pep assemblies, student government, and club activities are all important parts of the school experience.
Expectations are high—from students, from parents, from department chairs and administrators.
As a teacher, it’s important to be flexible in rearranging plans and having backups for when school-wide activities might disrupt your normal routine. I usually have my week planned out ahead of time. Good communication and good planning can help to ensure that students are getting the full educational and social experience of school.
Balancing the needs of the community
Schools are comprised of the people in the community. As a teacher, it’s important to understand the community your students are a part of. The community I teach in is a more rural community, where many of my students are the first person in their family seeking college. Some of my students are the first person in their family who will graduate high school.
Many of my students don’t understand the value of education because they have never seen the benefits education can offer them. I talk to them about their futures and their goals, guiding them through their education route if they want to become a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher. I have guest speakers come into my class so that students can see what kind of careers are available and what type of education they need to be successful in those careers.
I have an open line of communication with all of my students and their parents. I let parents and students know that I’m available every day after school for tutoring and extra help. I call and send emails when students are struggling in my class, and I offer my services to every student and answer questions whenever I can. Part of that is building an online community. I use Edmodo.com as a way to communicate with my students after school hours. I encourage them to start discussions and help each other as they go through the class.
Teaching can be challenging at times, but as long as you really care about your students and really want help them, both with the materials in your class and their struggles outside your class, it can also be very rewarding.
Share your ideas: What do you think are the biggest challenges for today’s teachers?
Dayna Doskocil is a high school chemistry teacher in Buckeye, Arizona, who received a BS in biology from San Diego State and a Masters in Secondary Education from Arizona State University. When she’s not teaching, she enjoys swimming, walking her dog, and visiting local areas of interest. You can find her at her blog.
Photo credit: JoHo / Shutterstock