December 13, 2006

Baby Teachers?

I firmly believe that future of teaching is bright. It is bright because there is an entire generation of baby teachers at the universities who can’t wait to leap into teaching and make a difference in the lives of students. These people are optimistic, excited, enthusiastic, and passionate about the classroom and the learning experience for both students and teachers.

More than a month has passed since I completed my first university level teaching experience. As I think back on the baby teachers I taught I am encouraged by their enthusiasm for the classroom. These folks really want to be teachers! That’s saying a lot when you look at all the hoops these individuals have to jump through in order to one day land in their classroom. I have to admit, if I was starting my teaching odyssey today, I doubt that I would have completed the journey. Between the heavy load of course work, the testing, and the volunteer student teaching, I’m afraid that I would get discouraged, change my mind, and move on to something else. Luckily there are many willing souls out there who are undaunted by the challenge, and ready to jump into the world of education with both feet.

I have been helping some of my university students (I keep referring to them as “kids” like I do my high school students, but baby teachers is more appropriate) apply for internships and teaching positions by writing them letters of recommendation. Crafting a decent letter for a student is time consuming, but well worth the effort. In California, teacher candidates can bypass the “teach-for-free” student teaching process by getting hired as an intern. It’s a scary proposition. Baby teachers are placed into a classroom with a regular schedule and regular students, but without a master teacher. It's kinda like learning to swim by being thrown into a pool of sharks. Seriously. If you see an “intern” move into the classroom next door to you, walk on over and lend them a hand; they desperately need your help.

One of the letters I wrote was for a woman who wants to become and art teacher. Well, she already is an unbelievably great art teacher, she just hasn’t been hired as one yet. Her presentations in class were thoughtful, thorough, engaging, and genuinely interesting. Her students are going to love her and will produce fantastic works of art in her classes, I am convinced. The other student I wrote a letter for thanked me by cooking my family a turkey meatloaf. Who says teachers don’t get perks? She is currently a home hospital teacher working with injured or ill students who cannot make it to school. She too is already a wonderful teacher who will excel when she lands in her own classroom assignment.

I have also run into a few baby teachers on campus, and around town. I had breakfast the other morning with one who is a coach on my high school campus while he also substitute teaches to support his family and pay for his graduate courses. This man is pure, honest, and inspirational. Every time we talk about teaching I can see the fire burning so brightly in his eyes that sometimes I have to look away. I look away because I have seen this light before, and I’ve seen it extinguished after a short period of time working with reluctant students who can sometimes snuff out even the brightest infernos. There are few things more pathetic than a teacher who has lost his or her passion for the classroom. We should have some type of rehabilitation program for these sad people. But I honestly don’t suspect that this baby teacher will come to that type of unfortunate end. His passion is infectious and his students will feed on it daily, while their great accomplishments in the classroom will encourage this man to keep on fighting the good fight.

Another not-so-baby teacher that I met and taught has been teaching nearly as long as I have. Unfortunately, he is only now getting around to completing his course work, and his credential. I learned a huge amount from this man who specialized in teaching alternative education students. When he spoke of his classroom experiences, we all listened attentively as the master shared his nuggets of wisdom. I felt like there was very little I could teach my peer during those class meetings. And yet he seemed to have taken something positive away from the time we spent together. After the course finished we agreed that if we taught on the campus we would become good and long-time friends. That may yet happen; who knows?

Last week, two students from the university (but not students I taught) who are finishing their student teaching at my high school asked me to help them assemble a DVD of them teaching one of their lesson plans to a classroom of students. I was given the privilege of watching two newcomers practice their craft. They were both dynamic, engaging, entertaining, and most importantly, were clearly having fun in front of the class and working individually with their students. I’m hoping to get asked back to teach again at the university. If I do, one of the jobs I’d like to try is working more closely with baby teachers while they student teach. The student teaching experience is so critical to the first-year success, I’d like to help guide and counsel those working through their “dress rehearsal.”

If you are a veteran teacher and you’re feeling tired and stale, then I encourage you to spend some time with a baby teacher or two. Trust me when I tell you that they are starving for your experience and wisdom. Many of the daily routines, methods, and tricks that you use everyday are completely foreign, and completely needed by our younger troops. So go share. Get inspired by their enthusiasm, and rekindle the passion you held when you too were a baby teacher.