Maria Haque expounds the lessons she has learned over the years as a teacher and explains how teaching is actually all about learning
It’s okay to make mistakes. When I first started teaching I spent many sleepless nights worrying about my mistakes, but over the years I learned far more from my failures than from my successes. If you think about how we actually learn, it is through our mistakes. Just as it should be okay for children to make mistakes, it is okay for us teachers to also make mistakes. You won’t be perfect all the time and children need to see that. The key is that when you fail you have to reflect on what happened and learn from it. Learning from those mistakes is what makes you a better teacher and a better person.
Be curious and always keep learning. My students often remind me of the need to keep filling my mind with new thoughts and ideas. Their excitement to learn new things is a reminder, and a motivator, for me to do likewise. As a teacher if you’re not curious about things and committed to learning about life – and about your teaching, you have little hope of growth, or change. Teaching children has taught me this.
Being fair does not always mean being equal. This was a particularly hard lesson for me to learn, because to me being fair meant giving the same treatment to everyone. This changed when one year I had an ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) child, who had been failing year after year. I quickly learnt that for him to succeed in the classroom I had to individualize instruction and modify the curriculum. If I assigned the class a set of ten math problems, I asked him to do five. Initially I worried that this would be perceived as unfair by the other children. But then I thought, what is more fair? Letting a child, who can’t help the way his brain works, fail over and over again? Or to help students realize that each one of us is unique and that we all need and deserve different things? You will be surprised how quickly children will be able to understand and accept a new definition of fair.
It’s okay to ask for help. Many new teachers often shy away from asking for help. Throughout my first year of teaching I felt a gnawing sense of panic that I just did not know enough to be a teacher. One of the hardest things for me to do was to ask for help. When you ask for help you, in a way, admit that you do not have the answers to everything. This can be scary. But we teachers have to remind ourselves, that just as it should be okay for our students to say “I don’t know,” it should be acceptable for teachers to say ‘I am not sure about this.’ I need help.’ Somewhere along the way many of us were discouraged, perhaps even told not to ask for help. We grew up believing that asking was a sign of weakness. The opposite could’t be truer. If there is something you want to try, but don’t know how to do it – ask for help. Asking for help is a sign of confidence.
Teaching is’t an easy job. Scientists can land a spaceship on the moon, but they’ve yet to truly understand the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical development of children. Teaching is an extremely complex, highly intellectual and demanding job. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. In a society where teachers are often marginalized I keep reminding myself that we are teaching the future generation and that is, at the same time, one of the most challenging and rewarding occupations.
Maria Haque has a Master of Arts Degree in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University, U.S.A. She has a total of twelve years teaching and administrative experience at Haque Academy. She has also worked as a workshop leader for TRC and is a member of faculty at the TRC-Institute of ECE. She is a frequent contributor to TRC’s Ilm o Amal.