5 Life Lessons My Students Taught Me

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Lesson #1: Give authenticity, get authenticity.

It took me three years as a teacher to open up and let my true personality shine through to my students. When I first started teaching, I was deathly afraid of exposing my genuine self, because I was afraid that once people found out I was gay it could have negative repercussions for my job. I was more scared of the parents and administration than my students, but I was with my students every day and they desperately tried to get to know me better. I had to dodge their attempts at personal questions by segueing back to the lesson and because of this probably came across to my students as cold and aloof.

Lesson #2: Listen twice as much as you speak.

I used to think that my job was mostly about me being the all-knowing person in the room whom students should listen to. I controlled the lessons and crafted the message in my classroom, so that I could pass on my “wisdom” and my students could absorb everything they were to know in order to get a high grade in my class. Little did I know, as a fresh novice teacher, that this description is the makings of a terrible educator. My real job, I understand better now, is to get my students speaking, interacting and making sense of the world — both with my content and with each other. The less I speak, the more we all learn.

Lesson #3: The smallest things make the biggest different.

As a teacher, you spend the first few years being so challenged by the workload of learning and planning lessons, trying to get to know students, attending many meetings and overall feeling lost in the frenetic pace of every school day that there isn’t much time for the little things. With time and experience, however, it becomes easier to slow things down and notice the little things that transpire in the classroom every day. I’ve learned that it’s never the lesson that students remember after they’ve left your class. What really matters, are the small details that teachers can infuse in their teaching.

Lesson #4: People are always fighting a battle you can’t see.

I mentioned before about the students who look defeated before class even begins. Sometimes it’s exhaustion, sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s apathy. I used to assume only the latter and work really hard to coax students into participating with terrible extrinsic incentives (“You’re going to get a bad grade!” — worst thing a teacher can ever say by the say). Nowadays, I recognize that no matter how a student feels, I can’t assume the reason behind it. I can ask and try to help and maybe a student will share with me what’s going on, but offering to listen and be there for the student is the best way to be helpful.

Lesson #5: Sharing personal stories benefits everyone.

This lesson is connected to #2, but also offers another life lesson. The more students share, the more diversity of thought in the room, the better for everyone. I’ll never forget the moments when students taught me about life, because they opened up and shared about their culture, their religion, their faith, their background, their home life, their political views, their talents, or their interests.

Stories of a former high school teacher, now business consultant. Husband. Travel fanatic. Obsessed coffee drinker. And all-around nerd.

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