5 Things I Learned About Teaching from Being a Student

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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Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Karan Sinha says:

    This is such a important and post full of advises. The age from 17-25 is very important in a student’s life, because in these years , student shape their career and many more path are in front of them where they can choose make their future.

  • Murakami says:

    I completely agree with the first point “.Focus on How You Act (Not What You Say)”. All I remember about my teachers are what they did in our classroom, not what they taught to us.

  • Christine Sommer says:

    I absolutely loved this posting – agreed!
    Thank you for sharing.
    Teachers are in such positions of power. Use that position thoughtfully.

  • Mrs. Stick says:

    I am a student of a thirteen year old boy who lives in my home- yes, he’s mine. As a teacher of teachers, he challenges every theory I’ve read and taught to students of education. He humbles me every day. He reminds me that there is room for grace in the classroom and some students need a break even when they don’t deserve it. His words and actions at home remind me that he is much smarter than the box his teachers have placed him in. I wish teachers could always see the big picture of who their students are. Finally and probably most importantly, he reminds me that the teachers who build a relationship with him are the ones he will listen to and they are also the ones who can call him out when he needs correction or redirection.

  • C. Edwards says:

    I learned that I would not fully appreciate what teachers taught me until much later. I tell new, young teachers they may NEVER know the impact they have on students but always remember- they(teachers) will impact students. Will it be good or bad influence? The teacher in the classroom has to think about that everyday.

  • I learned something by being a learner in discussions with my students. I use a discussion program called “Touchstones.” In the middle school, volume A, there is a story about a farmer and his greedy sons. It is a tale from Persia. The father’s sons, throughout his life, were lazy and never helped in the field. Upon his death bed he told them that his treasure was hidden in his fields. After he died, they dug up the fields, but found no treasure. However, seeing as how they’d dug the field, they planted seeds and reaped a huge crop, sold it, and made a great profit. The next year they wondered if they’d missed it, so they dug the field again. Still no treasure, but they planted seeds, had another large hovits, and reaped a great profit.

    After several years of this, they realized their father’s message as his way of teaching them.

    The teacher, like the farmer, is faced with lazy, greedy, impatient children. He/she must get them to do something he knows is good for them, but whose true purpose is hidden from them because they are so young.”

    My learning from this “textual teacher,” and from the students who discussed this text for almost 20 years in my middle school classroom, is that we must keep this farmer in mind. Our seeds will not bear fruit for years to come…some never. But to not attempt to plant the seed, to abandon any responsibility to tend the fields….? This is akin to a crime.

  • Eli Mickelson says:

    Patience is key. When my non-teacher friends tell me they could never do what I do, this seems to be the number one reason why.

  • Elizabeth McCullough says:

    I’ve learned that I don’t want to sit and listen to someone all day long! Let me get up, be active and THINK!!!

  • Cindy Johnson says:

    As a student, I hated endless lectures and memorization. I was bored and sometimes disruptive. My high school chemistry teacher taught me what it was like to do science and to think deeply about the content.

  • Lynn Cashell says:

    Mrs. Boorujy was my 3rd grade teacher who taught me to give kids responsibility in the classroom. She was an active mover and shaker interacting with us. Then I went to my 4th grade teacher’s room, who sat behind her desk and rarely got up. Teaching is not a profession where one sits! Even at 9 years old, I knew then which one had it right.

    High school brought a whole different cast of characters. From the art teacher who was mean-spirited and lived to embarrass us, to my history teacher who demonstrated caring for his teenage charges every day. Again, no contest as to whose path to follow.

    In addition to patience, patience, and more patience, I want to add flexibility. Every day presents new challenges and new joys, but you never know which ones are going to show up, so be prepared and be flexible.

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