Get ready. This is going to be a feel-good story about why you should go out into the world and teach. Also, hopefully it will inspire you to become an active unionist. And if you have left teaching, I will try to convince you to come back to the magical world of educating humankind.
Joining the profession: buckle up, it’s a bumpy ride… but it does get better
I recall my first two years as a teacher in Norway as overwhelming, with tons of responsibilities, doubting myself and wondering if was doing anything right, struggling to make time for everyone in the classroom - it was hectic. I was stressed and I was failing on the million expectations from myself, the kids and their parents. The best but at the same time most irritating thing was that all the teachers I met were always smiling and being super nice to everyone and I really wanted to be like them.
In time, I gained more confidence, I didn’t have to sleep after work every day, I even enjoyed it. I understood that questioning what I was doing all the time was the right thing to do and I was making progress. I dared to ask for more help from my boss and more experienced teachers. Every day I was with the kids felt rewarding. I really loved “my kids” and they loved me back. Such a cliché right?
As for those always smiling teachers, I figured out their secret. It’s simple: You just can’t let your everyday mood stand in the way of the education of the future generation. Plus, kids smile and laugh a lot more than us adults and the good mood trickles down to you. This is already the best argument to teach.
Where did teaching take me?
Many say teaching is a way of life, a lens through which you see the world (more metaphors coming your way). Teaching gave me a more interesting life. For instance, it got me to teach Norwegian at an American summer camp in Minnesota with the Concordia Language Villages. With a small group of kids, I received hands-on training on what worked and what didn’t. I quickly understood that variation, play and active learning are the things that work. No book could teach me the outcomes of a learning activity in the form of smiles, grins, and body language. And if you haven’t heard it before, here it is just in case: it’s only through practice that you get good at teaching. It’s so boring to point out, but incredibly true!
Eventually teaching led me to the union world, where I’ve just started working. In my union I get to create solutions to the challenges that new, young teachers like myself experience. Also, I get to make sure teachers can do their job under the best circumstances possible (as promised, this is a feel-good story).
Why it’s absolutely worth it
The future does not look bright in terms of us having enough qualified teachers worldwide. In Norway too many teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years for other jobs. 30-40,000 teachers in Norway have already left the profession. As a consequence, we have unqualified personnel teaching up to 10% of classes in primary education.
As many others, I was left alone too much the first years and should have had more support, guidance, and training. And each year the expectations get bigger and bigger in terms of what teachers should know and do.
So, why did I stay on as a teacher? In short, for the kids (surprise!), but also because of the unique environment a school creates. I had a boss who had time for me (thankfully), I had a union around me that worked well with my school, and most importantly, my first years led me to really think about what school and teaching are and should be.
During this period, I felt how important I was to the kids but also, as a young representative for the union, I learned about my rights, our collective rights in the working world, and the tripartite system in action. Also, as a young unionist I helped other teachers who were always thinking about “their kids” too. More importantly, I fanned the fire within myself, the flame to engage myself further (last metaphor – I promise)!
To make sure that teachers in general can work their magic in the classrooms, there are many things that need to be in place. But don’t worry, I and other unionists are working to set things up.
It’s not easy to become one of those happy teachers but you can do it. You must find your way, dare to ask for help, get some hands-on experience and you must be prepared to fail along the way - many times. Take the time to recognize what teaching really means for you. As a teacher, you can actually make a small but essential difference in our big world. Not many professions can say that.
There you go: the recipe for a meaningful life, with lots of smiles included. So go out there and teach. I’m already cheering for you!
The theme of World Teachers’ Day 2019 is “Young Teachers: The Future of the Profession.” To mark the occasion, we are launching a mini-series of blogs featuring the voices and experiences of young teachers and Education Support Personnel. This is an opportunity to hear directly from young education professionals and young unionists and discover their stories: what drew them to the profession, the challenges they face and their plans for the future.
If you are a young teacher or Education Support Personnel, or if you recently joined the profession, do not hesitate to contribute to the series and have your voice heard. Please get in touch with Sonia at [email protected].