Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Things You Don't Learn in College

Two more classes... Two more classes and I will be finished with graduate school. It feels very unimportant.

When I graduated from college, it felt like a big deal. The paper meant something to me, and I thought it would make me good at my job.

One thing that you might not know about me from reading this blog, is that I am really good at tests and school. I remember when I took the PRAXIS in undergraduate school that my professor told me my score was off the charts. When I took the state exam to teach Language Arts, I scored in the highest bracket in every category. I can still rattle off all the educational theories I learned. When I took Developmental Psychology in graduate school, I never cracked a book because I remembered everything I learned in undergraduate school.

I used to think that all of that would make me an exceptional teacher, but the thing about actually teaching is that the answer isn't found in a textbook. So, despite my 3.95 undergraduate GPA and 4.0 graduate gpa, I have found the final exam of actually teaching to be the hardest exam of my life.

I created a study guide for anyone who might actually be going in to teaching, but please be aware that 99% of the exam is a surprise--meaning you can't find it on my study guide.

1.) Know your stuff. Be prepared to answer tough questions not found in the curriculum, and to NOT answer the questions you shouldn't answer. Below are examples of questions that have dumbfounded me over the past three and a half years.

A. Why can't we ______________ (you fill in the blank and I assure you I've been asked it)?
B. What should I do if ________________ (here's a tight rope a teacher must walk between the hypothetical and the actual--kids usually ask this question because they want to tell you something, but sometimes it is something you shouldn't know)?
C. Where's ___________ (this is a question you might get asked when a student is not where he is supposed to be--beware this question on a fieldtrip)?
D. Have you ever _______________? (Don't answer these questions even if you live a squeaky clean existence like me).

2.) Expect the unexpected. I never know what a day will be like when it starts. No textbook could teach me that the copier is often broken just when you need it, someone is probably going to hurl during your great Reading lesson, the smartboard is going to go the exact opposite of the way you use the pen--just to mess with you, and the pet rat from next door is going to escape and terrorize you.

3.) Play the game. They don't write this in textbooks but it is true. Teaching is so political and you need colleagues and administrators as allies and not enemies. Just be nice and hold your tongue when necessary is all I am saying.

4.) Keep it real. At the end of the day, a classroom is just a room full of people. When the thermostat isn't working and it is unseasonably hot, you might as well realize that you can't get them to write a four page paper at this point. When someone leans back and falls out of his chair, you might as well make sure he is okay and laugh along with everyone else.

5.) Talk crazy to crazy people. My roommate is a nurse and she really taught me this one. She says that in nursing school they tell you to correct your patient's delusions, but in real life when a patient says a pink elephant is in the room you ask what corner he's in. Teaching is like that too, some parents and students are crazy. When they tell you their child who is eating paste in the corner is gifted, you just volunteer to test them. When they tell you that at home when their child misbehaves he has to shed his imaginary skin--just go with it. Tell him to shed his skin next time he acts up.

There is a lot more than I could ever write that they can't prepare you for in college. My point is that it's nice to finish my second degree, but I now know it doesn't mean too much...

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