Behind classroom doors

By Zainab Khawaja
Tue, 10, 22

I have, somehow, successfully slid into my second year of teaching at a high school in the United States, and I can see why people would consider it as a ridiculous move....

Behind classroom doors

world teachers’ day

Whenever people asked me what I was going to do with my life, I would smile knowingly and reply, “I am going to be a high school teacher!” The responses were almost always filled with shock. I don’t blame them. If a person gets the chance to study abroad and wants to choose anything related to liberal arts or education, they are usually discouraged by their loved ones. After sleepless nights and a lot of anxiety, I finally got my teaching licenses in Secondary English Education and English as a New Language. I have, somehow, successfully slid into my second year of teaching at a high school in the United States, and I can see why people would consider it as a ridiculous move.

In my time in this profession, I have met plenty of teachers, both fresh graduates and veterans. I have had deep conversations about the obstacles that stop them from enjoying their passion wholeheartedly and why they do it anyway.

The first issue is that teachers are not valued. Some people live under the delusion that just about anyone can teach. Lecture in front of the class and you are done. However, nothing can be further from the truth. We spend hours creating lesson plans which are both educational and fun, so that no one dozes off. We also learn to communicate with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Furthermore, we deal with all kinds of personalities on a daily basis. What if our opinions don’t match? What happens if the other person becomes aggressive? There are a lot of questions like these which we must keep in mind while interacting with students and co-workers. Usually, teachers are pictured as happy goofballs. But we have our bad days too. Sometimes, it is tiring to play the educator, uncertified therapist, motivational speaker, artist, and comedian all at once. It is interesting how many teachers master the art of masking their expressions within a second so that no one knows what is going on behind the scenes. My second point is teachers go through a lot of stress. Ironically, teachers have one of the most critical positions in all societies around the world, and yet are underpaid. A lot of my teacher friends have two jobs and struggle to make ends meet. There are difficult students and parents who refuse to listen to our point of view. Also, many school districts do not take care of their overworked teachers, which leads to them feeling isolated and anxious.

Behind classroom doors

So, why do people risk their peace of mind and step into the world of education? I talked to teachers from various schools and got some common answers, which resonate with my own sentiments. Firstly, it is soul-stirring to see how many students are willing to trust a teacher they bond well with. I have come across multiple stories and essays where students have opened up their hearts in front of me. Not only do they craft happy and humorous anecdotes, but also share their tales of trauma, depression, heartbreak, and other hardships. As someone who is new to the profession, I feel my heart warming up whenever someone shares their experiences with me. I have a lot of passionate young writers in my class who write stories and poems. They love the craft but sometimes are unsure of themselves. Despite the self-doubt, they share their texts with me, and appreciate my feedback. Knowing that someone trusts your judgment is a beautiful feeling.

Another reason why people gravitate towards this profession is because they did not have teachers they could connect with, and so want to step into this field and make a difference. Recently, I met a young Social Studies teacher, and asked him why he chose to become one. He told me his own Social Studies teacher would make the students watch a movie while he dozed off. Ironically, the napping teacher became his motivation to change the education system. I realised our own struggles can inspire us to try to create a world where people can flourish.

Collaborating with other subject teachers can lead to “Ah-a!” moments. I love talking to the special education teacher at our school. The veteran instructor teaches me how to differentiate and help students with various disabilities learn in the best way possible. Our discussions have led me to the realisation that each individual has a lot to offer. Be it the student who seems lost all the time, or the one who is forever distracting their classmates. Collaborating and team building leads to authentic bonds with your fellow teachers and a sense of comfort. I am an introvert and yet it is easy for me to talk about my perspectives with my colleagues. Sharing unique teaching methods and memes or ranting on a bad day while having coffee together leads to great friendships.

A fun reason why educators love imparting knowledge is because we don’t just get to teach, we get to learn from our students. My school is incredibly diverse. It amazes me to see how people from different cultures reside in my classroom. The colourful stories and the mix of languages I get to hear every day makes our space exotic and full of zest. It is appealing to see how eager students are to share their experiences with their teachers and classmates.

Moreover, teaching brings out our fun artistic spirit. No matter what subject one teaches, art can easily be diffused into it. For example, I teach English and I love my lessons to have a vibrant tinge to them. Not only do students produce colourful PowerPoint presentations, but also poetry poster boards, one-pager projects and vision boards. Using art in my lessons has taught me not to judge any student because you never know what art can motivate them to do.

People around me leave me astounded every day. There is a shy student in one of my classes, who is content to stay in her cosy corner and talks in a hushed tone only when mandatory. After four weeks of being in class, she finally opened up and gave one of the best presentations I have ever seen and heard. She had a beautifully painted canvas as a visual representation of her speech. When I first saw it, I was so taken aback that I couldn’t find my voice. Finally, when I complemented the teenager’s work, she showed me pictures of her artwork on her phone. These included sketches of women and animated characters like Rick and Morty. I had an amazing artist hiding away in a corner of my classroom and I didn’t even know! That was the moment when I realised what my biggest reason for being a teacher in school was: witnessing miracles in the classroom.

The writer is a certified English teacher and teaches at a high school in Indianapolis, USA.

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