The Making of a Good Teacher

You know that moment when you take a peek around your life and think, “Wow, is this for real?” I’ve been having moments like that all week long, which means, dear readers, you need to brace yourselves for yet another reflective post from me.

I think what sparked this week long reflection was our “Dear Practicum Student”post from last Monday, where we offered our personal advice to those student teachers heading out on practicum. Our post was shared on Facebook and retweeted by many people over the course of last week. The number of views we hit on Monday got me thinking about all those soon-to-be new teachers, full of wonder, inspiration and hope for their upcoming teaching careers. It was only two years ago that Meaghan and I were beginning our final practicum experiences and we’ve been told numerous times since then how lucky we are to have work in our district of choice. It is true that the Victoria district can be “hard to crack”, and although I would agree that luck has been on our side, most of our successes have derived from really hard work.

I would be embarrassed to know the tally of hours I've spent staring at a screen over the past 8 years.

I would be embarrassed to know the tally of hours I’ve spent staring at a screen over the past 9 years.

I have what I like to call the “Western World Syndrome”. I have all my basic needs met and then some, and yet I still want more. I’m constantly looking for the next thing to do, planning the next goal to achieve – hence, the reason why I’m running a half marathon this summer. I take my goals seriously and I jump into them with my entire being. Yes, I fail. I have failed many times and have cried millions of tears over those failures, but I keep going. One day when I was 16, post gymnastics retirement and feeling somewhat lost, I was playing volleyball with my dad in our front yard. I didn’t play team sports growing up, but as my dad and I passed the volleyball back and forth he said to me, “Karley, you know, I think you could be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do, so long as you work hard for it. Gymnastics has taught you the dedication and drive to achieve great things in your life”. I took my dad’s message, stored it in my heart, and didn’t look back.

I’ve definitely had times in my life where I felt the negative pressure of not being good enough (by my own standards); however, those negative times have passed and the pressure I put on myself has turned into a positive quality. Now I aim to become better at what I do because I truly enjoy hard work and the success that comes along with it. I worked non stop throughout my B. Ed, which was a 7 year adventure for me. I recall spending my weekends cooped up at home (usually with my friend Leanne) working on unit plans, reading, writing, crying over ridiculous math assignments and asking questions about everything. One weekend Lee and I spent 16 hours working on a unit plan for a PE course we were in. Joel cooked and fed us dinner so we didn’t have to stop working (bless him). I was the ultimate keener in Uni, always pushing my hardest to get top marks and striving to eventually snag my dream job.

These lists of assignments and due dates would get posted by my desk as soon as I got my hands on a fresh, new syllabus each semester.  Nothing felt better than checking off those boxes!

These lists of assignments and due dates would get posted by my desk as soon as I got my hands on a fresh, new syllabus each semester. Nothing felt better than checking off those boxes!

I am focused (I planned my wedding in three hours), I am competitive (I usually just compete with myself) and I am goal oriented (I plan my summers in December). These three qualities have their positive and negative influences over me, but for the most part they are a winning combination. However, despite my “go getter” tendencies, it’s difficult for me to praise myself for a “job well done” because I grew up in a competitive environment where I was constantly working to be better. Similarly, over the years I’ve had to learn how to genuinely accept compliments from other people. I’ve been setting goals and working to achieve them since I was in grade 4, so achieving my dream of becoming a teacher has mostly just felt like another goal to check off my achievement list. In truth, I haven’t really taken the time yet to soak in this massive accomplishment.

Taken on the last day of my B. Ed.  So happy to be done!

Taken on the last day of my B. Ed. So happy to be done!

A few months before graduation from University I was feeling less than special. It humbly occurred to me that I was not above the other 150 people who graduated as new teachers alongside me. I’ll be honest when I say that this was a hard fact for me to accept (I’m extremely competitive, remember). I worked tirelessly for 7 years, and although I thoroughly enjoyed those 7 years, I wanted my hard work to pay off right away (okay, I’m a tad impulsive too). This epiphany was a moment of clarity for me; yes, I had worked hard in school, but this whole working world thing was going to be an even greater challenge. I could not control who hired me and when they hired me, so I had to trust in the Universe big time because I knew I had put the work in…the rest was somewhat out of my control. I was the most annoying human on the planet during this time.

Things got a lot more awesome for me though, as my final practicum came to a close. I discovered that I was nominated for a prestigious award for practicum excellence. I received the most incredible reference letters from my practicum supervisor, my principal, my beloved mentor teacher and my adorable students. I realized that all these people, who were complete strangers to me before my final practicum, were totally setting me up for success in a large way. I remember feeling overwhelmed with everyone’s kindness and I burst into tears in from of my mentors (and again in front of my students). I couldn’t really believe that I was as good as they were telling me I was. In those tear-filled moments I recognized the goodness this teaching profession holds and I promised myself to hold tight to that goodness, whether it be a good resource, a good teacher mentor, a good lesson plan or a good day in the classroom. I used the goodness to fuel my inspiration and launch me into my brand new, bright and sparkly teaching career. After all that hard work in Uni I didn’t win the award I was nominated for I didn’t even graduate with honors (but Meaghan sure did!) I was disappointed in myself because I wanted those accolades to prove to myself that it was all worth it. My friend Karen told me to ignore the awards and straight As because she knew that I was a good teacher and that was all that really mattered. Two weeks later I was hired by my school district and Karen got to kindly say, “See, I told you so!” (Thankfully for Karen my hiring process was speedy because I was one absolutely pesky practicum student. Thankfully for me, despite my continued peskiness, Karen still loves me. I think 😉 ).

This week I stepped outside my own head for a few moments and really thought about how far I’ve come and how hard I’ve worked since my graduation from University a year and a half ago…and I am so proud of myself. Allowing myself the space to reflect on all my hard work in the past 9 years has made me stop questioning my successes and the reasons for them (remember in the fall when I couldn’t believe I scored a full time job at the start of my second year?) I kind of hit myself in the head this week and realized that the reason why I have been successful thus far is not only because I trust the Universe and that all things happen as they’re meant to, but also because I have been working so hard my entire life for this job.

My first day of paid work as a teacher, Sept. 3 2012.  I took this as 2012's "First Day of School" photo for my mom, only this time I was going to school as the teacher.

My first day of paid work as a teacher, Sept. 3 2012. I took this as 2012’s “First Day of School” photo for my mom, only this time I was going to school as the teacher.

So this whole story kind of leaves me where I’m at now. I’ve TOCed, I’ve worked in elementary music and middle school dance/drama, and now I’m teaching grade 8 full time. My short, yet extremely successful, teaching career overflows with goodness every single day. I’ve come a long way in a very short amount of time and I know I deserve everything that comes my way because I’ve worked so hard for this. I’m not lucky, I’m diligent. I’m honest. I’m smart. I’m passionate. I’m a bit intense! And I have the greatest support team a person could ever dream of.

New teachers, I encourage you to harness your greatest qualities and use them to fuel your fire in this final practicum! And then go get what you’ve worked so hard for. You deserve it.


5 thoughts on “The Making of a Good Teacher

  1. Okay Karley…..I’s so glad you took dad’s words of wisdom and then Karen’s, you are who you are and no one can take that away from you. And I love that first photo of school pic! You make us very proud as you’re so dedicated to your life long dream. Love ya more, Mom and Dad

  2. I was one of the student teachers you spoke with at McGill. I’ve been following your blog for a while and it was lovely to get the chance to speak with you over Skype. You guys help me stay motivated and inspired (in what we could call a tough job market). Thank you!

  3. Karley, this is such an inspirational story. It is truly amazing how much you love what you do and the intrinsic rewards you seem to gain from teaching. You have some lucky students, and I hope they realize how committed and excited their teacher is day in day out. The educational world needs more of you!

  4. Pingback: I Wouldn’t Trade It | Tale of Two Teachers

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