Are teachers born or made?

Gymnast in Cairo (photo by Nasser Nouri via flickr)

Unlike large parts of the New Zealand population, I don’t watch much in the way TV sports (or for that matter TV in general). The best part of the All Blacks game is the Haka, I’ve never had a real affinity for netball and still don’t understand why league and rugby are separate codes. In fact the only time I ever make time to watch sport on TV is during the Olympics and even then there’s only been one sport that I will watch, gymnastics.

I’ve never lost a childlike wonder for how the gymnasts are able to seemingly defy gravity in such a graceful way. But the thing that keeps me watching gymnastics is how the gymnasts able make it look so effortless in a “hey I think I’ll do a few cartwheels on my way to order a cheeseburger” kind of easy. Were the gymnasts born to perform acrobatics? The general consensus is that you need to put thousands of hours of blood, sweat and tears go into making an Olympic gymnast.

But what about teaching? Teaching is one of the few professions where many people think oh that’s easy anyone with half a brain could do that. Most of us don’t think anyone could whip out a scalpel and decide to be a surgeon, likewise lawyers and accountants are generally viewed as needing to acquire some knowledge about what they are doing  before we pay them money for their services. However many people would argue that great teachers are born, not made.

Perhaps people think teaching is easy because in general we’ve all been to school so know what a teacher does during the day.  A good teacher makes teaching look so effortless that you think to yourself ‘hey I could do this’ while a bad teacher makes you think ‘hey I could do this better’… that is until you get in front of a classroom.

The first few days weeks of teaching experience where I felt like the little boy with his finger in the dike. However as soon as I plugged one hole, another would appear. There were times during my practicum where keeping 28 students on task and learning seemed like such a herculean effort. At any moment the whole lesson could come crashing down (and yes, on occasion lessons did come crashing down). On the outside you try to keep a cool and calm exterior, but in reality you know a few missteps can lead to classroom chaos in even the most docile of classes.

This would be what the experts call ‘reality shock’.  For anyone unfamiliar with the term, this is the phase when you start teaching (experience) and think to yourself “I didn’t learn anything about teaching at university.”  From my experience,  I did actually learn about it I just forgot all my theory during survival the phase.

For instance at the start of practicum I would often forget to take the roll after the class went out for morning fitness. A seemingly simple task, right? How could you forget to take the roll? Everyone knows that teachers need to take the roll.  So why did I forget to take the roll? Because I was too busy trying to remember student’s names, where they going and what they were supposed to be doing after fitness. The roll was way down my list of things to remember. In order to overcome this, I started making little notes to myself checking off what I needed to do during  form time and at the end of practicum it was second nature to take the roll.

The roll is just one small part of the day. At any one time you need to know what you are teaching, how you are going to teach it, how long it will take to teach,  what materials you are going to need in your lesson, what will happen if something (like your screen projector) isn’t working, where the students will sit, how you’ll manage problem personalities, what you’ll do to minimize disruption (if you are working on a practical activity), what do the early finishers do,  how to get your learning intentions across to students who don’t speak English,  what happens if students don’t have the background knowledge or raise a teaching point during the lesson. And these concerns might just be for one activity amongst the many that might be going on in class. I haven’t even touched on what happens outside of class

Eventually my training started to kick in and activities which would have caused chaos in my first week (for instance students teaching each other games they had invented for their maths homework) went by without major hitch in the second week. But every lesson there was something for me to work on, something I needed to differently. I did manage to get almost all my ducks in a row just in time for my lecturer assessment but just like my students, I’m still learning.

So is there such thing as a natural-born teacher?

I think there are personality traits that predispose some people to be good teachers, but like anything teaching is a craft that develops over time. The hours I spent babysitting and looking after my baby brother as a youngster (there’s a 10 year age gap), caring for my ex stepdaughter, the months I’ve spent slogging away to get my qualification and finally the hours I will log in the classroom will make me in to that ‘natural-born teacher’ I aspire to be.

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5 thoughts on “Are teachers born or made?

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  1. It sounds like you are on the right track. Acknowledging where one needs help or to improve is I believe, the first step towards improvement. Reflecting on your teaching is the second. The more you ‘teach’ the better you will become until one day you will suddenly realise that you can do this, teach that is and enjoy every moment of it too. Keep up the blogging too!

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