Life Lessons I Learned as a Former Teacher
Before I became a full-time writer, I was a teacher. I taught English as a Second Language to kids of all ages at several schools in and around New York City. For me, teaching wasn’t just about helping kids read and write; it was about helping them grow to become better human beings.
I’m so grateful for the life I have now, but I know I wouldn’t be nearly as successful without the life lessons my teaching experience taught me. Here are a few lessons I learned as a teacher that I carry still use in my current life.
Learning Comes From Doing
I learn best from being actively involved in whatever task I’m assigned, and I thought a lot about this when I became a teacher. I wanted my students to have less theory (aka sitting and listening to me lecture), and more interaction with lessons, as their personal experiences with the material would strengthen their skill sets overall.
In life, I make a point to be as involved in a new process as possible. Sure, I could hire someone to fix a simple leak, but teaching myself to fix it will save me time and money, and also provide me with a useful skill.
People Learn Differently
Similarly, it’s important to understand that everyone learns in different ways. Some kids are really good at taking notes, others can hear a lecture and remember the subject verbatim. Some kids like the stability of sitting at their desk to do their work, while others are more productive when they work on the floor or sit on cushions.
When I’m working with other people, I try to be sympathetic to their learning styles. This became really apparent during the pandemic, when people had to get used to working from home versus working at a desk. If a co-worker is struggling with a task, I try to adjust it so they feel more comfortable based on their learning style, and it is usually more effective and productive than expecting them to comply with a certain structure.
Teaching Is All About Management
If you can manage kids, you can manage anyone. Believe me, teaching 27 to 30 kids at a time prepared me immensely for being an effective manager. Figuring out how to ensure my students understood the material and were able to apply what was being taught while dealing with different learning styles and personalities now allows me to take on group management with ease.
It’s important to remember that just because someone is “older” doesn’t necessarily mean they are more mature, either. My teaching skills have come in very handy for bosses with anger management issues, coworkers who don’t get along, and people who procrastinate. It’s been a life and career saver over and over.
Writing Skills Are Undervalued
Reading and math skills are some of the most overemphasized aspects of teaching. They are very important certainly, but because of how standardized tests and other educational mandates are structured, the art of writing is usually given the lowest priority. I made a concerted effort to ensure my students had excellent writing skills because I knew it would help them be naturally good readers and better communicators overall.
It’s apparent as an adult how little other adults know about the art of writing. You can usually tell when someone writes an email or presents in front of a client that their communication skills are less developed. Because I’m a writer, I have taught coworkers how to communicate more effectively through their writing, and it’s helped us win pitches and smooth over issues several times over.
Befriending the ‘Problem’
Every teacher has a favorite student, no matter what they tell you. They also have a student they absolutely cannot stand, usually because they are perceived as annoying, don’t learn as fast as the others, or are the class bully. These are the kids I would make an effort to support even more than others because I knew their issues stemmed from deeper concerns. Maybe the kid who talks all the time requires more educational stimuli. Maybe the class bully is aggressive because they have no outlet for the problems they face at home.
These personality types appear in the adult world as well. While I know I have the power to avoid undesirable types, I’ve also seen firsthand how befriending my difficult boss and gaining his trust gave me access to opportunities others never had, such as promotions, work trips, and casual weekend hangs at his house in the Hamptons. Sometimes, we just need to take a step back and try to see the world from their perspective.
Make Time for Rest and Reflection
Having downtime in the classroom is as important as ensuring there is enough time to learn. Kids need time to process information and relieve themselves of the pressures associated with after-school activities and other demands. I had a “chill corner” in the classroom that each student was allowed to use for 10 minutes a day, anytime they wanted. It was a chance for them to take a breather, sit with a book they liked, draw a picture, etc. — anything they wanted that would help them recharge.
I take this into consideration as an adult as well. Pushing through fatigue never helped anyone, and if I see my friends, family members, or co-workers struggling with something, I always advise taking a break. It’s important to ensure people are comfortable and have a clear head, which is why breaks are necessary.
This post is part of a series honoring beloved teachers who make a difference with their kindness, love, and wisdom each day. Thank you to all of our educators from all of us at CircleAround.com. To read other stories in this series, please click here.