two years ago, I made an important decision.
I decided to leave my life in the lab and become a high school biology
teacher. I took this leap in my career
without much preparation. When I made
the decision, I was accepted into a program where I took classes on education
and teaching while I was working in the classroom. Although these classes were somewhat helpful,
there are several things that I wish that I had done or known before I made the
change. Although I still consider myself
a new teacher, I hope that I can give a little bit of advice to those who are
considering making this kind of change.
college and in graduate school, I did not take any psychology classes. They just didn’t fit into my schedule, but I
wish that I had learned something about psych, especially child and adolescent
psychology. I do not have children of my
own and, to be honest, haven’t spent a lot of time with children. Adolescents especially are challenging. They are starting to look and act like adults,
but they are still, at their core, children.
Figuring out how to encourage and support children was a huge challenge
for me, and I am always learning new things about who they are and how they
think. I have now taken one psychology
class, but I wish that I knew more.
Instead, I am learning everything as it happens.
is also helpful to know something about children. If you have your own kids, then you already
know how rewarding and demanding it is to be with children. If you do not have your own, I suggest
spending some time with friends or family who have kids. After all, teaching at any level in K-12
involves spending the majority of your day with kids, so be sure that you
actually enjoy working with children.
also wish that I had more teaching experiences.
I did have some teaching opportunities, such as being a TA in graduate
school and mentoring a high school student in the lab, which I really enjoyed
and were a big part of my decision to become a teacher. However, I believe that the more experience
you have, the easier the transition will be.
I know some other graduate students and post-docs were able to teach a
class at a local college as an adjunct professor. That kind of experience, in which you can
design all of your own lessons, homework, and exams and prepare your own
curriculum, is extremely valuable. Any
kind of teaching experience or experience working with children in any capacity
can be an indispensable asset.
are a lot of skills and talents that you definitely can take with you from the
lab to the classroom. First of all,
working in the lab requires a lot of organization and hard work, both of which
are necessary for teachers. Being able
to balance your time effectively is important both in the lab and in the
classroom. Of course, being exceptional
at communication is essential, especially being able to simplify and clearly
explain complex concepts to children. We
all have a lot of experience presenting at lab meetings and department meetings
and even at conferences. However, as a
teacher, you teach 4 or 5 classes a day, five days a week, so each class
obviously cannot be as polished as we usually would be for a department
you can quickly think on your feet and be prepared for unusual questions, it is
a helpful skill to have. Children, even
teenagers, are constantly surprising me with their insightful and, sometimes,
off the wall questions. I feel that it
is crucial for children to be comfortable asking questions at all times. Often, you think that you are making your
lesson extremely clear, but students may be confused. As long as the students are comfortable with
you and know that you will adjust your lesson to help them, you will both be
able to continue so that all can learn.
is important to be honest with the students at all times. If you do not know the answer, simply tell
them. I actually believe that the
ability to show your students that you are not perfect and do not know
everything is extremely important. Part
of working in a lab and being a student is realizing that it comes with lots of
setbacks and obstacles. Students need to
feel that they are allowed and encouraged to try thinking and figuring things
out without the fear of failure. Without
a safety net, they will never start thinking outside the box and will never
have always set high expectations for myself in everything that I have tried to
do. I also try to instill these high
expectations in my students. You must
realize that everyone has an occasional bad day, teachers and students
alike. You must also truly get to know
your students, so that you will be able to recognize when they are simply
having a bad day versus a serious problem, whether it is a personal issue or
just that they are confused with the lessons.
Either way, creating strong relationships with your students by
listening to them and respecting and recognizing their strengths and talents
will prove to be essential to success.
Those relationships with your students will also sustain you when you
are having one of those bad days. My
students amazed me when I developed laryngitis and lost my voice for three
days. They all pitched in and taught the