Educators may spend their careers preparing lessons, but often the most memorable are those they learn themselves. With that in mind, NEA Today asked school staff – everyone from classroom teachers and bus drivers to guidance counselors and school nurses – to share the everyday lessons they’ve picked up along the way in a series called “What I’ve Learned.”
Tracey Matt is a Language Arts educator at Albia Community High School in Albia, Iowa, where she teaches 11th grade English and Contemporary Literature for 10-12th graders. Over the course of her 19 years in the classroom, she says she learns something new every week, if not every day. Following are some of her lessons learned.
I have learned that, in an ever changing world of technology, nothing can take the place of a great teacher. Students need the personal connection of a well-versed instructor to guide them through their learning. The role of a teacher is no longer to disseminate information that kids regurgitate back for a grade – a teacher should be there to help students maximize technology, and to nurture, guide, and encourage kids to explore, research, create, and develop their skills to allow them to compete in a global world and economy. It takes a great teacher to foster independent learners. This must be done with the use of technology on the forefront, but it should not supersede the importance of an instructor.
Today more than ever, teachers have to make profound connections with students to keep them engaged in the classroom. Kids today have so many distractions to their learning that didn’t exist even five years ago. If a teacher isn’t a dynamic presenter of instruction with compelling real world activities, students will tune out very quickly. I’ve learned that the best way to engage them is to always listen to their concerns, and make them feel like their opinions are paramount. If they don’t know that they are an important factor in the learning environment, all of the instruction and planning that teachers think is “great teaching” is lost.
I’ve learned that a good lesson plan can go bad very quickly if a teacher banks on the fact that students will do their homework. Again, students today have so many outside influences that drive their time outside of school. With jobs, sports, activities and social media, unfortunately, sometimes homework is not on their radar. I have learned rather quickly that if it’s important to do, it’s probably worth doing in the classroom.
The best thing I have learned over my teaching career is that it is what I am meant to do. Not only is it my profession, teaching is my passion, my hobby and my biggest challenge in life. It is the most rewarding career I think I could have ever chosen and at times the most frustrating. There are ups and downs with any career, and the lows are sometimes devastating. I’ve had my share of bad days and great days. I’ve shed tears with my students, for my students and with my colleagues as well. I have shared many great accomplishments, sometimes on a grand scale and some on a pretty small scale. No matter what the accomplishment, it feels good to help mold young people for their future. Nowhere on Earth will you find a more dedicated group of people than those who call themselves teachers.