5 Things I Learned About Teaching from Being a Student

By AJ Juliani, 12 comments

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

I hated middle school.

Actually, I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, the social awkwardness, the beginning of playing team sports with real winners and losers, and of course the moments in school that made us laugh out loud (there were lots of those).

What I disliked about middle school was the actual school part.

The tests. The papers. The homework.

It felt like a big waste of time.

So many of my teachers were good people. They were nice and kind. They were hard workers. They were punctual. They were good role models. They kept their word. They helped me learn.

But, it seemed none of that mattered to me at the time.

There was one teacher that was different. His name was Mr. Hench. He was a hard and challenging teacher. He didn’t try to be funny, or make friends, or play nice with students in our class.

In fact, quite often he acted like we didn’t know much, and we should be farther along in our understanding of literary analysis. For an 8th grader, this caught my attention. This teacher was no joke!

I learned a lot from Mr. Hench that year, and I actually had him twice more as a teacher when I was in high school. There were a few other teachers like him that caught my attention and made me perk up in my seat as a student.

As I embark on getting my doctorate, I began to reflect on what actually mattered to me as a student, and how that impacted my teaching. Here’s what I learned about teaching from being a student.

1. Focus on How You Act (Not What You Say)

Mr. Hench was one of many teachers I had that didn’t mince words. I realized as a student that I spent most of my time observing how a teacher acted in certain situations. What did they do when someone acted out? How did they respond to an unannounced fire drill? What type of activities did we do in class? These actions matter much more to students than what we say to students. This is what made me remember him and other teachers (not their lectures or words of wisdom).

2. Part of Our Job Is to Inspire

Speaking about words of wisdom, part of our job as a teacher is to inspire. Although, we can’t regularly do this through speeches and rallying cries. In fact, most of the inspiration I received as a student was from my teachers who cared deeply about their work and sought to help every kid learn. Mr. Hench inspired me because he had created his own computer program that helped grade papers (how cool is that?). He had devised a new system for writing papers and analyzing literature. He spent hours building out assignments and packets that weren’t taken from the internet but instead created over years and summers of hard work and research. I couldn’t help but be inspired by his dedication to practice and to helping us be the best.

3. Our Impact is Greater Than We Think

Honestly, I didn’t ever think I’d be a teacher (much less an English teacher). But something happened over time. I realized that teaching English was the right amount of challenge and connection that I needed. Trevor Muir share a wonderful story about how one of his teacher’s impacted him in the same way through this video. I’m sure we all have stories, but wow, as teachers we can literally impact the direction of a student’s life.

4. Patience (please have patience)

Honestly, one of the major lessons I learned about teaching by being a student is patience. Students need teachers that have patience. If you don’t have patience it is hard to be a good teacher. Kids make mistakes. They are lazy sometimes. They try to push buttons. They do all kinds of crazy things that adults would never do.

And it’s ok.

Be patient. It’s worth it.

5. Students Don’t Want a Best Friend. They Want an Adult that Challenges Them.

I never understood why some students would try to become ‘buddy/buddy’ with teachers. Also, never understood that from the teacher side.

Students don’t need a friend. They do need adults who are friendly.

But most importantly, they need teachers that will challenge them to go above and beyond. Challenge them to work harder than they thought they could. To achieve more than ever thought possible.

Great teachers challenge students to be better. That involves building relationships and knowing how/when to challenge each student. Be a mentor, because they are all looking for one!

What did you learn about being a teacher from being a student? Share it out in the comments!

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